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‘Rough sex’ defence set to be banned in UK
India Chipchase, Natalie Connolly, Grace Millane

The UK is set to ban the disturbing ‘rough sex’ defence

A justice minister has said the government will outlaw the defence that allows murderers to get a lesser sentence for killing when sex ‘goes wrong’

In December 2018, 22-year-old British backpacker Grace Millane was murdered in New Zealand. Her killer claimed her death by strangulation was accidental, and was the result of ‘rough sex gone wrong’. In February this year, his disturbing defence was rejected by a jury, who sentenced him to life in prison.

Over in the UK, where Millane lived with her family in Essex, the so-called ‘rough sex’ defence has seen a 90 per cent increase in use over the last decade – and, shockingly, has been successful in almost half the cases. Now, a justice minister has told MPs that the dangerous defence – which blames victims for their own death – will be banned.

Also known as the 50 Shades of Grey defence, it’s used in courts in cases of sexual violence – that either end in murder or serious harm – to explain why the violence occurred. If convicted based on this defence, killers can often be charged with manslaughter, as opposed to murder.

Speaking in parliament yesterday (June 16), MP Alex Chalk said it was “unconscionable” that the defence can be used to excuse the death of a woman “simply because she consented”. The defence is set to be outlawed in new domestic abuse legislation, which is due to become law later this year.

“The government made a big step today,” activist group We Can’t Consent To This – who have been working to have the ‘rough sex’ defence thrown out of British courts – said in a statement, adding on Twitter: “It’s over to them now and we should know within weeks what their proposals are, and if they’ve gone far enough.”

Addressing MPs yesterday, Jess Phillips said: “The law should be clear to you all – you cannot consent to serious injury or death.” The Labour MP asserted that when a woman is dead “she can’t speak for herself”, but any man charged with killing a woman could “simply say she wanted it”.

We Can’t Consent To This has collated 60 examples of women who were killed when sex ‘went wrong’ in the UK since 1972. These include the recent murders of Natalie Connolly and India Chipchase. Speaking to Dazed last year, the group’s founder Fiona McKenzie said: “For some reason in the criminal justice system, it’s believed that the women have said: ‘Yes, I want to be horribly injured. I want to be hospitalised by my sex life’.”

She continued: “Often, you’ll find nothing about the person who has died beyond their name and these lurid accusations that she consented to all kinds of sexual activity before she died.”

Chalk told MPs he will make the ban on the ‘rough sex’ defence “crystal clear” in the Domestic Abuse Bill, and will ensure there won’t be any “wiggle room” for defendants. In a statement for We Can’t Consent To This, Labour MP Harriet Harman said: “It is encouraging that the government is listening to the concerns of women’s groups and of MPs across parties, but the important thing is for them to close the loophole which allows men to get away with murder.”