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'I Was Raped By A Stranger While Travelling Abroad Eight Years Ago. It's Time We Broke The Stigma'

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'I Was Raped By A Stranger While Travelling Abroad Eight Years Ago. It's Time We Broke The Stigma'

Eight years ago, Sophie Davis had just finished university.

Aged 21, like so many graduates, she waved goodbye to her family and boyfriend, and packed her bags to travel the world with her best friend.

It should have been the trip of a lifetime. But instead, the experience has haunted Sophie for the last eight years.

During a visit to Australia, Sophie was raped in a hostel by a stranger she had never met before. Scared, alone and thousands of miles from home, she felt unable to tell a single person for seven years.

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Sophie spoke to Tyla about the importance of getting support (Credit: Sophie Davis)
Sophie spoke to Tyla about the importance of getting support (Credit: Sophie Davis)

Keeping her ordeal to herself led to years of trauma, flashbacks, panic, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Until one day last year, when she stumbled upon an article in a magazine about a woman whose story was staggeringly similar to her own.

A switch flipped, and Sophie was triggered into finally coming to terms with what had happened. She reached out to a counsellor, as well as rape support organisations, and finally sought the help she had been craving for seven years.

Twelve months on, Sophie, from Milton Keynes, is working with the UK government on its latest campaign, It Still Matters, which urges victims of sexual violence or abuse to seek confidential support - no matter when it happened.

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Here, Sophie, now 28, tells Tyla about the two moments - seven years apart - that changed her life irrevocably.

"It happened in a hostel," Sophie recalls of her attack. "It was someone I didn't know and wasn't aware of. Ultimately, I felt safe at the time and in that environment, but obviously I wasn't.

"I literally didn't tell a single person, not even the friend I was travelling with at the time. I had a boyfriend at home, too, and I didn't tell him either.

Sophie is working with the UK government on its latest campaign, It Still Matters (Credit: Sophie Davis)
Sophie is working with the UK government on its latest campaign, It Still Matters (Credit: Sophie Davis)
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"It's fair to say the experience has gone on to impact me throughout my entire life. After it happened, I was very alone and very afraid in a country that wasn't my home. I didn't have the support around me that I needed."

In her fear and trauma, Sophie sadly felt unable to report the incident to police and "kept the incident to herself". She explains: "I felt like I either wouldn't be believed or I wouldn't get the support I needed.

"Instead, I very much just numbed it out and pretended it didn't happen. However, as I've learnt in the years since, keeping it a secret and not getting support protected me at the time, but over the years it wasn't the right decision for me."

In January last year, reading about someone else's experience prompted Sophie to reach out.

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"It triggered my feelings and thoughts and encouraged me to finally come to terms with it," she explains.

"I thought I'd left what had happened behind, but I was ignoring it. Subconsciously, it was affecting my behaviour and the way I was with people. Ultimately, it was impacting my every day life.

"The first time I said it out loud to my counsellor, I felt such a weight had lifted. I'd finally let out something that I'd been holding in for so long. Looking back over the last seven years, the most prominent impact has been the PTSD. I've suffered from panic attacks and anxiety the entire time."

Sophie has suffered from PTSD for the last eight years (Credit: Sophie Davis)
Sophie has suffered from PTSD for the last eight years (Credit: Sophie Davis)
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She adds: "I'm a travel journalist, but for years it affected my work and career. I couldn't travel alone, I felt too afraid and vulnerable. I had to leave jobs, or not take jobs abroad because of the impact it was having on my mental health.

"For a really long time I wouldn't travel anywhere alone, everyone I saw would be a potential threat to me. At the time I thought it was generalised anxiety and panic, but I realise now it had stopped me living my life."

After a month of counselling, Sophie felt ready to tell her family, closest friends, and her fiancé what had happened.

"I wanted to make sure I was in a good head space first, and then a month or so after that process had begun I started telling family and friends, which was a really scary time," Sophie explained.

"There were many uncomfortable conversations, but it was such a healer for me and I now have a deeper bond with them - it finally felt like they were able to understand what I'd been through and how I'd changed myself to deal with that experience.

"The last 12 months have been so monumental, and that is simply down to having the right support. It was like a light bulb moment in realising I wasn't at fault in any way. Finally, I was able to heal instead of holding on to those emotions from eight years ago.

Sophie says getting help has changed her life (Credit: Sophie Davis)
Sophie says getting help has changed her life (Credit: Sophie Davis)

"The experience itself changed me as a person, but being able to get the right support and move forward has changed me again. It's made me see things in a different light, it's made me able to provide my story to other people and hopefully encourage them to get the right support.

"As a female traveller who has experienced this while abroad, I think it's really important to widen the lens and show that my story isn't an isolated case.

"I would urge anyone who has been through a similar experience to get the right support. Whether it's been reported or not, it's never too late to get support or heal as a person."

Where to get help: If you've ever experienced sexual violence or sexual abuse, you can get confidential support from specialists who will listen to you, believe you and understand how hard it is to talk about. Visit gov.uk/sexualabusesupport to see the support on offer.

You can follow Sophie's journey on her Instagram or blog, Sophie's Suitcase.

Featured Image Credit: Sophie Davis

Topics: Life News, Real Life

Lucy Devine
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