Woman unites with her rapist for TED talk

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An Icelandic woman has shared a TED stage with the man who raped her, nearly 21 years on from the attack.

Tom Stranger, an exchange student from Australia, had been dating Thordis Elva for a little over a month when he raped her after their school ball.

She had gotten drunk on rum, to the point the security guards wanted to call an ambulance.

"But Tom acted as my knight in shining armour and told them he wanted to take me home," she said at a TED talk on Tuesday (local time).

"It was like a fairytale - his strong arms around me, laying me in the safety of my bed."

But it quickly turned into a nightmare, and Ms Elva says she "thought [she'd] be severed in two" during the attack, suffering blinding pain.

The attack lasted more than two hours and the couple broke up several days later.

In a moving TED talk, the duo shared a stage to share their story. Ms Elva spoke of how she blamed herself for the rape, growing up in a culture where "women were raped for a reason".

"It took me years to realise that only one thing could have stopped me from being raped that night... The only thing that could have stopped me from being raped that night was the man who raped me, if he had stopped it himself."

Mr Stranger says "disavowed the truth", convincing himself it was sex, not rape.

"This is a lie. I felt spine-bending guilt for her."

The two reconnected nine years later, when Ms Elva wrote to him while on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 

She said she "wanted to find forgiveness".

"Because whether or not he deserved forgiveness, I wanted to find peace," she says.

To her surprise he wrote back, describing how he too had been torn up and affected by the events of that night.

They kept in touch for another eight years before they met up in South Africa, facing their past almost 16 years after that night.

Ms Alva says she wishes she could tell her teenage self that the shame wasn't hers and she could still find happiness after the rape.

Together Ms Alva and Mr Stranger wrote a book which they hope can be helpful for both the perpetrator, and survivor of a rape.