Campaigners protest against talk by Icelandic rape survivor and her attacker

Campaigners protest against talk by Icelandic rape survivor and her attacker

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Campaigners have staged a protest to condemn a controversial talk by a rape survivor and the man who attacked her.

Passers-by, tourists and culture lovers heard campaigner Zita Holbourne shout “this is a crime scene – there is a rapist inside” as the talk by Icelandic writer Thordis Elva and Australian Tom Stranger began at central London’s Southbank Centre.

Complaints, including a petition, saw the event being removed from the schedule of the Women of the World festival where it had been due to be held on March 11.

Ms Holbourne accused the Southbank Centre of a “cop-out” by moving the talk to a later date and not “acknowledging” the “thousands of women who had raised concerns” both through the petition and individually about the talk.

Stranger raped Ms Elva when she was 16. She was his girlfriend at the time.

He was 18 at the time, and living in Iceland as an exchange student.

Ms Elva got in touch years later, telling him of the impact the attack had on her and their emails and face-to-face meeting formed the basis of a new book by Ms Elva.

Ms Holbourne said: “He has not been punished. He has been given a platform and been given opportunities to tour around the world and speak, to get fame and earn money from the fact that he raped a woman. That to me seems unacceptable.

“I am disappointed in the Southbank Centre. It is an internationally-acclaimed arts centre. They have misjudged the programming of this event greatly.”

Demonstrator Floyd Codlin, 51, of Forest Hill, south London, said he wanted to show “solidarity to my sisters” and also his “disgust” about Stranger being allowed to take centre-stage.

Frankie Green, 67, held a home-made banner which read “her forgiveness = his impunity”.
She said: “I cannot think of anything better to do that protest the presence of a rapist who is being given a platform in a public venue.”

Charity chief executive Annie McDowell was attending the venue for a piano concert.

Ms McDowell, of Thornton Heath, south London, said it was “outrageous” that the centre, which has celebrated women in all its diversity, would “give a platform to a self-confessed rapist – it is something I would not expect to happen in our centre”.

There were about 50 demonstrators at the protest, according to the campaigners, and Scotland Yard said there were no arrests.

Ms Elva and Stranger gained worldwide attention by speaking publicly about what happened.

Jude Kelly, the Southbank Centre’s artistic director, said Ms Elva had been included in the festival “to share her journey of coming to terms with the devastating impact of her rape and her decision to invite her perpetrator Tom Stranger on to the stage, to take full responsibility for his actions.”

She added: “Having considered the importance of this debate for the widest possible public, and after having further conversations with survivors, support organisations and audiences, we decided to stage this event tonight, Tuesday 14 March, rather than on the Saturday 11 March as originally scheduled, to enable as many people as possible to contribute outside a festival context.”

She said group discussions were later held “for anyone affected” by the talk.

The Women of the World festival was created to help debate gender equality and other issues that women and men struggle with every day.

Ms Kelly said: “Rape is one of these critical issues and we need to shift the discourse around it, which too often focuses on rape survivors rather than rape perpetrators.”

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