A teenager who told the police she had been repeatedly raped by her stepfather was told she must bring her bed quilt cover to the police station if she wanted the investigation to continue.
The attitude of Kent Police has horrified the girl's family and rape victim groups, who for nearly a year have been pressing the authorities to take the case more seriously and now believe the quilt could hold vital DNA evidence.
The girl's story highlights why the conviction rate for rapes remains at just six in every 100 incidents reported, campaigners say. The 19-year-old victim, who cannot be identified, claims that she was groomed and sexually abused by her stepfather from the age of 13.
When "C" reported her allegations to the police last October, she was told the case would not succeed in court, partly because she continued to have contact with her stepfather following the complaint. After a consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) the case was closed for lack of evidence.
Then in May, "C" told officers investigating the case that she had found the quilt cover her stepfather had used when he was abusing her. The family claim it wasn't until August this year that the police contacted them again.
The victim's mother, who has since left her husband, told The Independent that her daughter was told to bring the quilt to the police station. When the family continued to press the police to review the decision, the mother says the family was told to "stop manipulating" officers' time and to "get counselling".
Superintendent Paul Fotheringham, of Kent Police's public protection unit, said he couldn't comment on the inquiry because the case was ongoing.
A spokesman for Women Against Rape, whose volunteers have supported hundreds of women and girls who have seen their cases turned down for lack of evidence, said: "Contrary to the claims that the system has been overhauled, this case illustrates why there is only a 6 per cent conviction rate. Women and girls are shocked and furious when they cannot get their rapists prosecuted, but there is no appeal. The CPS and police expect rape survivors to live with the consequences of their inaction and their decision."
"C" was so distressed by the decision not to take the case further she wrote to her MP and the chief prosecutor of Kent. In her letter she wrote of the abuse, which happened "more or less every week and sometimes several times a week" and involved two other men.
She wrote: "The abuse started when I was about 13 and it continued until I was 18, when I finally found the courage to tell my mum about it. I not only suffered physical sexual abuse by my stepfather but over six years of mental manipulation and grooming."
She claims that not testing the quilt, which was laid on top of her mother's bed during the abuse, is the latest in a catalogue of failings, including not interviewing the relative or other man named. Nor, she alleges, was her stepfather's phone or computer examined, which could have confirmed part of her story. She also wrote: "It seems the police were very persuaded by my abuser's lies. My behaviour was judged without taking into account the effects of long-term abuse."
A CPS spokesperson said: "Two CPS rape specialists reviewed the evidence but concluded it was insufficient for a realistic prospect of conviction and we informed all those concerned. The Crown Prosecution Service takes rape allegations very seriously and in the light of potential new evidence we asked the police to reinvestigate the matter."
Superintendent Fotheringham added that Kent Police took all sexual assault and rape allegations seriously and said that its priority was to offer support and professional care to victims.
Proportion of successful rape prosecutions.Reuse content