WOW! Really?

Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger could easily be mistaken for models in an advertisement for Abercrombie and Fitch or Tommy Hilfiger clothing. They are not. Elva is a survivor of rape and Stranger is the perpetrator – Elva’s rapist. The two of them have written a book about the rape and are touring the world promoting it. Together.

Though I can’t imagine wanting to see a man who had raped me in any setting other than a courtroom or prison cell, I have absolutely no objection to Elva having chosen to heal from her ordeal in this way. Her way. What I do object to is the fact that Women of the World Festival (WOW) chose to include the Elva/Stranger performance piece, ‘South of Forgiveness’ in their programme of events. WOW is supposed to be a festival celebrating and honouring women. How does the presence of a known rapist who has never been prosecuted or punished for his crime, elevated onto a stage and lauded, sometimes applauded, for his willingness to accept responsibility for what he did to Elva (literally, the very least he could do), align with the purpose of the festival?

Women travel from all over the world to attend WOW. Many of those women come from countries in which they are shunned, cast out, punished and even murdered for the “crime” of having been sexually violated. What is WOW saying to them when they invite a rapist as a paid guest into their midst?

Jude Kelly, Artistic Director at Southbank and founder of WOW, has said that one of her aims in hosting ‘South of Forgiveness’ is the opening up of the dialogue around rape so that it no longer focuses solely on the survivor of rape but extends to the perpetrator. I agree, men do need to be part of the discourse. Should it be Elva’s rapist that opens the discourse at a festival designed to celebrate and honour women? I think not.