Rape and Reconciliation

Like many of us out there, I am a sucker for a good TED talk. Coupled with my addiction to podcasts, this means that TED podcasts have become my recent drug of choice. 

I usually leave a TED podcast with an incredibly heightened sense of optimism about my day - I feel as if I can conquer the world equipped with my tool-box of TED talk tips. 

The podcast for this week however, really made me think. And not in a satisfying way; this episode was not a soothing cure, or explanation that would satisfy a personal irk. Everything about the story was uncomfortable, unfamiliar.  

The talk featured Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger, and is entitled 'Our story of rape and reconciliation'. (link here

I can't adequately reproduce the story or the emotion behind it, so I encourage you to watch the video to get the full experience. However in short, it features a rape victim and her rapist on stage explaining their reconciliation of events years after it took place. 

What I find so potent is the manner in which they both talk about their meeting; both emphasise what they learnt from the experience, about themselves and one another, and sexual violence as a global pandemic. 

This was no black and white case of attributing blame and moving on, it was an entire process demanding honesty, vulnerability and acceptance. This reminded me that ultimately this issue is a human one, and on a personal intimate level has to be solved as such. Thordis explains that such an experience is unique and shouldn't be prescribed as the solution across the board. Her words, shown below, about the over simplification of the issue, really impacted me for the remainder of the day;

'Given the nature of our story, I know the words that inevitably accompany it — victim, rapist — and labels are a way to organize concepts, but they can also be dehumanizing in their connotations. Once someone's been deemed a victim, it's that much easier to file them away as someone damaged,dishonored, less than. And likewise, once someone has been branded a rapist, it's that much easier to call him a monster — inhuman. But how will we understand what it is in human societies that produces violence if we refuse to recognize the humanity of those who commit it?' 

This resonated with me so strongly; in my own personal life, I have been so quick to judge the perpetrator that I forget that they are all human. There was something that stimulated them to do this, they have their own story and a whole vessel of experiences that have moulded this mindset/  This has made me recognise that I find it difficult to conceive that someone who can commit such an act is as humane as myself, but that is exactly where I fall into the trap of reducing the situation and limiting its potency. 

It is exactly this humanity that must be grabbed onto and used as a tool, on both the small and large scale. Listening to Tom's evocative words on what this experience was for him personally shows that reconciliation is very much a jointed and mutual experience, providing space for both parties to learn and heal. 

The final piece they raise awareness of is something that we at EHV are wholly committed to; making female empowerment both a women's and a mans prerogative. I will leave you with their resounding end to their talk;

"It's about time that we stop treating sexual violence as a women's issue. A majority of sexual violence against women and men is perpetrated by men. And yet their voices are sorely underrepresented in this discussion. But all of us are needed here. Just imagine all the suffering we could alleviate if we dared to face this issue together"

By Phoebe O'Hara