A woman who reported a sexual assault overseas was “treated with contempt” and failed by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the public services watchdog has found.
Ms B contacted FCDO to report that she had been raped while on holiday with friends in Turkey. She was denied the opportunity to take legal action because she was given wrong information by the FCDO. Shockingly, she was even told “carry on with your holiday and enjoy it”.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has upheld a complaint from Ms B, finding that the FCDO’s failings led to a missed opportunity for her to bring her attackers to justice. The lack of support by FCDO made her feel that her traumatic experience was unimportant. This undermined her ability to heal.
Ms B said she was not given information about where she could get legal advice or about local police procedures. She was led to believe she had given sufficient evidence to the police, did not need a forensic examination and had completed the necessary steps for a criminal investigation, when in fact none of these things were the case.
She complained to the Ombudsman that FCDO’s failings left her with no prospect of securing a conviction and getting justice. Ms B also raised concerns over the attitude of FCDO officials, saying they did not believe her or take her seriously. She received a message from the Vice Consul, seen by the Ombudsman, which said, “What you now have to do is to carry on with your holiday and enjoy it”.
Ms B felt she had no choice but to return to Turkey on three occasions to follow matters up with the local police. This caused her further unnecessary distress and prolonged her trauma, as well as causing additional costs. Despite her efforts, which included hiring a local lawyer, none of the perpetrators were found. Knowing that an earlier police investigation could have led to a different outcome has compounded Ms B’s trauma.
She told the Ombudsman the experience has caused her great distress, and that her treatment at the hands of FCDO has left her feeling embarrassed and insignificant. She doesn’t want another woman to go through the same experience:
After being the victim of a traumatic sexual assault whilst in a foreign country, I turned to the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, a Government Department, to support and advise me. The awful failings and bad advice given by the FCDO left me in a vulnerable situation where I was forced to use my own intuition to preserve forensic evidence.
Whilst in Turkey and on return, I was failed at every hurdle by the FCDO and re-victimised. The FCDO gave false hope on my return to the UK, which led to a forensic medical examination. The very poor advice and deceitful involvement of the FCDO hindered the assistance of the British Police Force, causing me prolonged suffering, additional anger and unnecessary distress.
I wouldn’t wish my experience of the FCDO’s mishandling on anyone else. I can only hope that significant lessons will be learnt by the FCDO following the report by the Ombudsman and, as a result, significant changes are made to their processes, hiring and training practices. That will mean that any future victim of serious crime overseas will be more confident that they can come forward and be taken seriously and properly, helped and supported by those who have that responsibility in the FCDO. I am grateful for the continued support of my local police force, MP, and Rape and Sexual Assault Centre who continue to help me move forward from the terrible ordeal which I experienced.
Ombudsman Rob Behrens, said:
A young woman who has undergone a deeply traumatic experience has been treated with contempt by the very people who were meant to help her. This is a severe dereliction of duty by the FCDO, which needs to make sure that such mishandling of an incident of serious sexual assault never happens again.
In the aftermath of the #MeToo era, people have a right to assume that Government Departments will display the highest levels of awareness and understanding about the importance of women’s safety.
PHSO has recommended that the FCDO presents a plan, setting out what action it will take to address its failings, to the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. It has also asked FCDO to compensate Ms B for the unnecessary travel and legal expenses she incurred and the distress she experienced as a result of its failings.
Read the case summary.