Sophie talks of tears after hearing testimonies of sexual violence victims

Tony Jones, PA Court Correspondent
·3-min read

The Countess of Wessex has admitted hearing the stories of sexual violence survivors has taken her to “some very dark places” during her work to raise awareness about their plight.

Sophie – who is celebrating her 56th birthday – spoke candidly about “tears dripping off your chin” during a London School of Economics webinar discussing promoting peace after conflicts.

In a lighter moment, the royal family have posted a tweet marking the countess’ big day with the words “Happy Birthday to HRH Countess of Wessex!” and an emoji of a cake covered with candles and a balloon.

Sophie publicly committed herself to supporting the UK’s work helping victims of rape, sexual violence and exploitation in war in 2019.

She has also been working in other fields to promote women, having founded the Women’s Network Forum in 2014 which she chairs, and bringing together a cross-industry group of senior figures to promote gender balance and equality in the workplace.

The countess told the online event, staged on Tuesday, about meeting survivors of sexual violence: “To hear their stories, you know when you’ve got tears dripping off your chin, I mean you just, you can’t help but weep with them because they are so terrible, these stories.”

She added: “It really is heartbreaking and I’ve gone to some very dark places, you know, internally.

“But I’m not living it and therefore if they can survive, if they can put one foot in front of the other, then for goodness’ sake of course I can.”

Sophie also highlighted the importance of local “women peacebuilders” in trying to resolve conflicts.

She shared the discussion with Sri Lankan peace activist Visaka Dharmadasa, Abir Haj Ibrahim, co-founder of Mobaderoon – a network of activists that train community development projects and civil society organisations in Syria, and Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, director of the London School of Economics centre for Women, Peace and Security.

The countess said: “But I think we just have to listen more and engage with more local people and it’s very difficult because obviously the international world gets involved with conflict resolution, but I think local resolution (has) really got such a more important part to play and sometimes I think it is underplayed, and isn’t given the air that it perhaps should have.”

Sophie spent her birthday working and during the morning delivered the opening remarks at the Lincolnshire General Practice Nursing and Healthcare Assistant Conference by video link.

In the afternoon, the countess virtually attended a social club run by Brendoncare, in her role as patron of the organisation which runs care homes and tackles social isolation through its friendship and well-being clubs.