TW: sexual violence
Forgiveness: the act of forgiving or the willingness to forgive.
Forgive: to stop blaming or feeling angry with someone for something that person has done or not punish them for something.
Well, here we are. It has been days since I wanted and needed to write about it but I couldn’t find the way to do it in a clear, well expressed manner.
Some days/weeks ago I have been literaly bombarded with a link to a TED video of a rape victim and her rapist, fighting hand in hand against rape culture.
You too have probably seen this link in your feed everyday for a while.
I do not want to link it here. If you don’t know what it is about, just in few words, it is the story of Thordis Elva who has been raped during 2 hours (7200 seconds she says) by Tom Stranger her then boyfriend. She decided to write to him years after, he replied, they met together an entire week to discuss about what happened and she forgave him, reconciliated with him and they wrote a book together.
Their story has been presented in a TED talk. The video has more than 2.5 millions views by now.
This link to this video appeared everyday in my Facebook feed, twitter and even Instagram for a while. It was in every newspapers I wanted to read, every web magazine I used to read. Impossible to miss it.
The first time I saw it I froze. All the others time I saw it I felt dizzy and couldn’t heard anything but my heart beating like if it wanted to get out of my chest.
As a rape victim and survivor, this video hardly triggered me.
I haven’t been so shocked and triggered by Elva’s reaction to her rape and her rapist indeed. She said : “…whether or not he derserves my forgiveness, I deserve peace.”
And yes, she deserves peace. If she can find peace that way by forgiving and reconciliating I am happy for her. That’s great for her. And that’s the point:that is HER way to find peace. It is only about her. Her way to find peace, heal and recover is not applicable to everyone. I, for instance, won’t find peace forgiving and reconciliating with those who abused me and raped me. Quite the oposite actually.
I have been assaulted many time by various people and in front of a crowd. Once at knife point. Once they choked me. I have been raped by a stranger who first street-harassed me and stalked me hours in a crowded city center too. Nobody intervened. Even worse: some laughed at me and mocked me. I developped PTSD, eating desorders, lifelong chronic disease and got the conviction I was nothing but shit and that what happened to me was normal. Because if not normal, with so many witnesses, this assaults would have been stopped right ? Well, no.
It took years to understand it was not my fault, it was not normal and that I am not shit and I deserve respect, peace and to be safe. I am not the one to be blamed for. They are the ones to be blamed for.
When, years after, I won my battle against bulimia, stopped to insult and mistreat myself and found the strenght to put words onto what really happened I eventually reported one of the assault and I have been fired as a consequence by someone who was suposed to be a friend. This was exactly 10 years ago. I am now living in the city I chose with a wonderful boyfriend, having precious friends, a great job and ready to get rid of the rest of trauma that have not left me yet. I can feel the progress. I am going better every single day. I am now convinced that I do have a great value, that I am worthy, that I am not shit. They treated me like a shitty object and this was wrong. What they did have had serious consequences on my life and my health. I won’t forgive them. They will always be the ones to blame for.
If I forgave them, I (and I say I, it is my case, not another case) would somehow accept what they did to me. By forgiving I understand that I could reconciliate with them (what Elva did) and therefore could go for drink, a chat with them, and what not
rape joking with them. No way. Forgiveness is for action that did not have long-term and longlife health and life consequences.
All they will get from me is scorn and disregard. I feel scorn for all of them. I am still struggling to feel indifference for some of them. But it will come. They will NEVER get my forgiveness. What they did is unacceptable and unforgivable. I will never find peace in forgiveness and my way to find peace and get my life back is neither better nor worse than Elva’s. We are both survivors, we are both human being with equal rights. Her opinion and experience does not have more value than mine or any other.
Then, I wouldn’t have been so triggered if she presented her experience in a personal blog or a Facebook post as a personal experience. I wouldn’t have been so shocked if it would have been presented like a personal story. That is her story, she has perfectly the right to share it, especially if she feels better doing so even if I do not understand how she can heal that way. I don’t need to understand her decision to respect it as long as mine is respected too.
What I find problematic is TED giving a platform to her story including her rapist’s voice and point of view and turning it into a kind of “powerful message” and like the only good way to recover ever from rape.
We live in a world where 1 in 5 women will be raped or experience a serious sexual assault in her lifetime.
We know that 97% of rapists will never spent a single day in jail. We all remember the Brock Turner case, Daisy Coleman and Audrie Potter cases, more recently the case of the Oscar ceremony with harassers and sex offenders among the nominees.
Victim blaming is prevalent with questions such as “what were she wearing? Did she drink a lot? What was she doing alone? ”
Is it opportune to give a platform to a rapist when victims encounter so many difficulties to be listen to and face disbelief and mockery? We do not hear men’s voice about rape, they say. Well, do we hear victim’s voice apart on specific victims/survivors groups and platform?
I, for instance, talk about my experience, I write about it because it is vital for me not to be silent anymore and raise awareness about this issue. I like to talk to others victims and survivors. It is important, vital, for us to be listened to but to be honnest I have the feeling to talk to an empty room. My experience does not generate 2 millions views obviously. But me, talking and denouncing what happened cost me a job and a ton of insult. And I am actually not alone in this situation. It is so difficult to have a voice. But magically, when it comes about a man speaking about rape, when it comes about a man who raped speaking about rape, more than 2.5 millions people listen, admire and applaud. And the video does not come alone. TED platform generates dozens of articles, and thousands of comments. The number of comments mentionning the courage of Stranger and how admirable he is are simply disturbing. Others comments admiring the power of Elva, comments certifying that forgiveness is THE goal to achieve. I read dozens of comments explaining directly to victims (victims who commented themselves to tell they will never forgive and never need it to feel good) that they were still in a bad period of their life and kind of haven’t seen the light that forgiveness produce. That is shockingly violent and disrecpectful. Both because it implies that there is a good way to heal (forgiveness) and because these people just tell them (and me as well since I do not see light and beauty in forgiveness) that I don’t know how I feel, how to heal from my story (which is very different from Elva’s as well) and what is good for me. These commentators know better than me what is good for me. This, has to be considered too when it comes to give a platform to a rapist and with such a sensitive topic. We can’t ignore the effect it will have to the public and its reaction.
Rape has the same effects than torture. It is now quite well known. When committed during war it is considered as war crime. Yet, victims are commonly silenced and blamed for being raped. We have to fight both against the direct consequences of the crime and all these statements that blame us, against all these rape myths. But a rapist is more admirable and listenable than us. It is even more than disturbing. It’s terrifying.
We saw recently some resistance, some protest, especially during the Brock Turner case. It seemed that many people found the sentence appalling and asked for more justice. With this video and the way it has been presented, now, the message seems to be that no need for justice. Forgiveness is the key every victim should have. And if I remember well, Turner said he would be more usefull free than in jail because he could teach students about the bad effect of alcohol…The message is clearly that if you rape, feel sorry and write a book you are done with the crime you commited (crime that produce the same effects than torture, remember).
Another point is the status of victim. If this story send a message then it is a message of the perfect victim who always forgive. This is not insignificant. We know that everyone can be raped: women, men, boy, girl, baby. We know that a big majority of rape victims are women and that a very strong rape myth is that men can’t get raped. Woman are seen, fatally, as prey that have to preserve themselves from the natural needs of men. Woman are also traditionally associated with the notion of care, gentleness, fragility. We don’t teach girl to be physically strong, to fight. If you “run like a girl” or “fight like a girl” it is seen as an insult. The concept of forgiveness makes sense in this context. A nice good woman is also a good victim who find serenity in forgiveness.
What about a woman who wants to send her rapist in jail and get justice? Is she a bad victim thirsty for revenge? Actually I have noticed that the term “revenge” replace “justice” in many cases of sexual violence. Revenge and justice are two things completely different from each other.
Words matter. And another thing I find appealling here is when Elva says that the word “rapist” is deshumanizing.
Once again I will take the Turner’s case for example. He was called a swimmer, a future olympic champion. These words were used to avoid to face the fact he is a sex offender too. We have to face the idea that rapists are human. They are not monster with blue and green skin and slobber that appear suddenly in a dark isolated alley. They are human. Elva got this right. They have parents, they have children, they have family, they have friends, they have colleagues, they have neighbour. They are human and being human is not incompatible with being a rapist. A human being who force him/herself into another people without her/his consent is commiting a rape and someone who is commiting a rapeis a rapist. Stranger is a rapist. R.A.P.I.S.T. That’s the correct word for what he did. Sorry not sorry.
And a rapist can go speak freely about his feeling without fearing any consequences but being admired and applaud.
I think this is sickening.
This is why I have been triggered. Because this video suggests the only way to recover from a rape is through forgiveness and by giving a platform to your rapist.
There is no good or bad way. There is no good or bad victim.
It is ok to tell your story and experience. It is not okay to present it in a way a rapist can be admired and seen as as courageous as his victim (or even more) and suffering as much as her.
I did not expect that from a TED talk.