Campaigners today welcomed the government’s promise to outlaw the “rough sex gone wrong” defence in new domestic abuse legislation, meaning that men will no longer receive lighter sentences for a woman’s death “simply because she consented”.
“We are extremely pleased to hear the government’s words,” Fiona Mackenzie, a spokesperson for the campaign group We Can’t Consent to This, told the London Economic today. “It’s up to them to deliver on it now.”
Mackenzie earlier said that while the campaign to outlaw the defence spearheaded by MPs Harriet Harman, Mark Garnier and Jess Phillips was “formidable”, she reiterated that only the government can make the “far-reaching change that is needed”.
She added that the government must be “bold enough and not take half measures”.
Speaking on behalf of the government, Alex Chalk, an MP for Cheltenham and a justice minister, promised that it will be made “crystal clear” in the Domestic Abuse Bill for England and Wales that this defence – also known as the “50 Shades” defence – will no longer be acceptable.
”It is unconscionable for a defendant to say that the death of a woman, and it is almost invariably a woman, is justified, excusable, or legally defensible, because that woman had engaged in violent and harmful sexual activity, which resulted in her death, simply because she consented,” Chalk told parliament yesterday.
“That is unconscionable, and this Government is committed to making that crystal clear.”
The family of murdered backpacker Grace Millane also welcomed the decision, calling it “fantastic news”. Millane was killed by a man she met on a dating site in New Zealand in 2018, and her murderer claimed in his defence that she had consented to rough sex.
Millane’s cousin, Hannah O’Callaghan, told the BBC that while the change in law came about too late for her family, hopefully it will help other families from suffering the same indignities.
Millane’s sex life was discussed around the world as her killer attempted to explain the circumstances regarding her death, in which her convicted killer put her body in a suitcase then buried it in a shallow grave after claiming that he panicked when he found her not breathing after “consensual” rough sex.
Harriet Harman talked at length about these problems with the rough sex defence to parliament last year.
“This is the question of now men literally getting away with murder by using the ‘rough sex’ defence. Though he has to admit he caused injuries which led to her death, he claimed it was not his fault as it was a sex game gone wrong. She is of course, not there to say otherwise,” she said.
“So in the witness box he gives lurid, unchallengeable accounts of her addiction to violent sex and explains that the bruises which cover her body are what she wanted.
“The grieving relatives have to listen to his version of her sexual proclivities and see them splashed all over social media and the newspapers. He’s killed her and then he defines her. She’s dead so only he gets to tell the story.”
More than 66,000 signatures
Grazia magazine, which started a petition to parliament to ban the defence that gained more than 66,000 signatures, says that 59 women in the UK have been killed by men who claimed they had consented to rough sex. It noted that in the last five years “the defence was successful in nearly half of the killings that went to trial”.
Another 115 people – all women but one – had to attend court cases where it was claimed that they consented to behaviour that resulted in violent injury. The violence included “waterboarding, wounding, strangulation, beating and asphyxiation”, the magazine said.
The Women’s Equality Party called the ruling “excellent news” and “a relief” on Twitter. “No one can consent to death and it is shameful this defence has been used to defend and excuse violence against women,” it said.
“This despicable defence should NEVER have been permissible in any court to enable the murderers of women to evade justice,” campaign group Making Herstory added.
A domestic abuse hotline campaigner who asked to not be identified said that ruling was a step in the right direction, but that it was up to the government to ensure that it was actually implemented – and implemented properly.
“We are committed to ensuring that the law is made clear and that defence is inexcusable,” Boris Johnson said in response to an MP’s question about when this would be resolved during Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this month.