The Countess of Wessex has been in Kosovo to learn more about how survivors of sexual violence have been supported following the conflict in 1998-1999.
With the support of the Foreign Office and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative from the UK government, Sophie met with survivors, families, charitable organisations and government bodies to learn more about how they are resolving issues pertaining to sexual violence.
Sophie paid visits to the Kosovo Rehab Centre for Torture Victims and the Heroinat Memorial to speak with survivors and hear their stories.
The Kosovo Rehab Centre for Torture Victims was founded as a way to respond “to the needed for psycho-social support of torture and trauma survivors and systematic oppression exercised against the Kosovo civil population during the Kosovo war (1998-1999) which led to grave consequences in the field of mental health and physical-social conditions of this population,” per its website.
During her visit there, Sophie met both survivors and family members who have been participating in a study on transgenerational trauma and learned about the challenges they face regarding acceptance, justice and support needs.
At the Heroniat Memorial, Sophie joined survivors and advocates to lay flowers in remembrance of the “sacrifices made by women throughout and after the conflict,” per The Royal Family Instagram account.
Sophie then attended a conference on transgenerational sexual violence from UK-led research. In a speech, she said about the survivors that, “Their stories are harrowing and their pain is still so evident, but it is their courage and determination not to be defined by their dreadful experiences that is so very impressive. I cannot imagine how difficult it has been for them and their families to rebuild their lives following such traumas; traumas which they carry with them each and every day. Their message to me was that in spite of the courage they have had to find within themselves to carry on, they desperately need more help, more support and acceptance, they need justice, they need us.”
The Countess of Wessex continued:
“Conflict leaves many wounds, but the biggest wound of all I believe is the unjust stigma that so many survivors are confronted with, not only here in Kosovo, but around the world. This additional burden heaped on top of devastating assaults, is almost too awful to contemplate. It is time to allow those who have been so brutally attacked through no fault of their own, as well as the many innocent children born from rape, who are so cruelly treated by society’s attitudes to come out from the shadows, so that their voices can be heard and importantly their children accepted. We must shift the blame from the victim to the perpetrator.
“If the stigma goes unchallenged we are merely perpetuating the offence, over and over again. So I say there is no place for stigma in our world today…no one should have to feel ashamed ever again.”
Sophie reaffirmed her support of this cause, saying:
“It is a commitment of the greatest kind that there are women out there who are willing to repeatedly and publicly recount their horrific experiences time and time again, in order that they can seek the justice that both they and the many other women, men, boys and girls out there deserve. But in order that they should not have to continue to make this selfless sacrifice we have to do more to ensure that the support is there when they need it and that society embraces survivors instead of shunning them.
“My commitment to them is that I shall also raise my own voice and continue to seek ways of ending the stigma they live with, push for opportunities for justice and encourage people in positions of influence to engage in offering better support.”
Finally, Sophie paid a visit to the Palace of Justice in Pristina to meet with people in power—judges, prosecutors, and police officers—to hear about how the Kosovo justice system is supporting survivors and helping them successfully prosecute their attackers.
Earlier this year, Sophie pledged to focus more of her work towards supporting survivors of sexual violence in a speech at the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women in March.
“I will champion women’s full and meaningful participation in peace processes, as part of my wider support for the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security agenda,” Sophie said in a speech.
“I will amplify and elevate the voices of women from those in business to those working tirelessly to bring peace to their communities.”
She also attended the 12th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting in Nairobi in September, where she pledged to support women’s issues across the Commonwealth, an effort that “will not only secure a more equal platform on which women and girls can build, but deliver an empowered – and ultimately brighter – future for the women of our Commonwealth family.”
In November, Sophie will attend the Time For Justice: Putting Survivors First international conference in London to continue her work.