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The WOW Festival Has Dropped An Event That Involved A Rapist Sharing His Experience

The Southbank Centre's artistic director said the event would instead be held at a later date.

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Updated on

The Women of the World (WOW) Festival, held at the Southbank Centre, has dropped an event accused of giving a platform to a rapist following pressure from campaigners.

Southbank Centre / Via

The event, “South of Forgiveness”, involves a rape survivor inviting her perpetrator on stage to discuss the impact of his actions.

Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger have previously given a TED Talk together sharing their story of rape and reconciliation that has been viewed more than 2 million times. The pair also released a book this year, described as “an unprecedented collaboration between a survivor and a perpetrator”. They say they explore “the darkest moment of their lives” and find hope “even in the most wounded of places”.

As BuzzFeed reported, a petition opposed to the event reached more than 2,000 signatures. It listed several concerns with the event, including the idea that rapists should be applauded for admitting to a sexual assault they have committed.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, the Southbank Centre's artistic director, Jude Kelly, said WOW was created to be "an open, balanced platform for discussion and debate on gender equality and the related critical issues that women and men struggle with every day". However, she confirmed that "South of Forgiveness" would take place outside of the festival.

"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," she said.

She added: "Following their TED talk (and their book South of Forgiveness) we programmed survivor Thordis Elva 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."

Kelly continued: “Having considered the importance of this debate for the widest possible public, and after having further conversations with survivors, support organisations and audiences, we have decided to stage this event on the 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."

BuzzFeed News also understands that the talk will be followed by facilitated group discussions for anyone affected by issues raised.

On Wednesday night Amira Elwakil, who launched the petition, released a statement about the victory. She said that the petition started an important conversation.

"The original slot for the event at WoW will now be used to bring this conversation and debate into public domain, and I encourage anyone intending to be at WoW this Saturday to join," Elwakil said. "Thank you to everyone who contributed to making this conversation possible," she added.

Fiona Rutherford is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Fiona Rutherford at

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