Is forgiveness a virtue? — Aaron Donchin

MAY 29 — When someone wrongs you, what are you willing to forgive?

Can you forgive theft, betrayal or even murder? A few months ago, Thordis Elva from Iceland and Australian Tom Stranger took the stage at a Ted Talk to discuss the very serious topic of rape.

What made their talk so controversial was that Tom Stranger had actually raped Thordis Elva 16 years ago when he was a foreign exchange student in Iceland.

From the talk, we learn that she never reported the crime to the police because he had returned to Australia a few days later and because she wasn’t clear as to what rape actually was.

She believed that in some way the rape was her fault because she was drunk and possibly leading him on.

Tom Stranger, much like his young Icelandic victim, claimed to be ignorant of what constituted rape. He simply thought he was having sex. You can watch their talk here

The fact that the victim and the culprit are travelling the world together to discuss this issue has caused controversy from London to Sydney. But I believe there are larger questions that should be asked:

  1. Is every criminal redeemable? Especially a criminal who has admitted to rape?
  2. Are we evolved enough as a people to have a public discussion that makes us cringe with discomfort?

On the first point, I’m not sure if I’m qualified enough to answer this question for everyone.

From my point-of-view, I do believe in some level of forgiveness, even for those who’ve committed some very heinous acts. But their forgiveness must come at a price.

They must still be punished for their crime, and they should also try to do whatever they can within their power to make things right again.

As for my second point — if we are to look at the the petition that attempted to keep Mr Stranger out of the World of Women festival — have we arrived at a place where we can’t talk to and understand those who’ve committed horrible crimes so that we can learn from their mistakes?

This one point is why I do not support the death penalty in any situation, even murder. If the criminal is dead, or constantly fighting court battles trying to avoid death, how are we ever going to learn their history so as to prevent others from committing the same crime.

Obviously there’s no excuse for an 18-year-old to commit rape, but we also have to look into the background of why he felt that his actions were appropriate and not criminal.

Did Mr Stranger’s father regularly belittle women? Did he grow up in a society where the boundaries of rape and sex were blurred, so that many men his age could not tell the difference?

Or was he just a jerk who thought he could do whatever he wanted? Regardless, he’s now in his early 30s and it seems like he’s clearly learned from his experience.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that he should be forgiven by his victim or society in general (especially since he never received any punishment), but it does mean that he is on the right path to redemption.

If people are too afraid to listen to why someone would think that forcing himself onto a woman was not immoral or criminal, how can we change how we teach other young men not to rape?

* Aaron Donchin is a lecturer at a local local college. You can reach him on his Facebook page

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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