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.