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UK bans ‘rough sex’ defence
From top left to bottom right: Denise Rosser, Hannah Pearson, India Chipchase, Charlotte Teeling, Megan Bills, Grace Millane, Anna Florence Reed, Christina AbbottsVia We Can’t Consent To This

The UK’s sinister ‘rough sex’ defence is officially being banned

Activists have praised the newly published Domestic Abuse Bill clause, which outlaws men getting away with murder when sex ‘goes wrong’

Yesterday (June 30), the UK government published a new clause in its Domestic Abuse Bill which outlaws the so-called ‘rough sex’ defence, which enables men to get away with murder on the basis that they killed when sex ‘went wrong’.

The amendment – which will become law later this year – will rule out “consent for sexual gratification” as a defence for causing serious harm or murder in England and Wales. This update will stop killers being charged with manslaughter, as opposed to murder, in cases of sexual violence.

Activists have praised the government’s action, with campaign group We Can’t Consent To This – who have been working to have the ‘rough sex’ defence thrown out of British courts – calling it “a victory”. 

“This will come as a huge relief to women,” the group said in a statement. “Violence in sexual relationships is appallingly common now – this new law, if fully enforced, will go some way to making sure those women get the outcomes they deserve if they report it to police. And ensure that women and their families are not subjected to the horror of the ‘rough sex’ defence.”

The amendment comes after We Can’t Consent To This’ 18-month campaign, which was supported by Labour MP Harriet Harman and over 80 others from six parties, and included a petition signed by more than 67,000 people.

“For nearly 50 years, the criminal justice system has failed so many women,” Fiona Mackenzie, the activist group’s founder, added, “it’s in all of their honour that we’ve fought for this.”

Harman hailed the ban as a “milestone moment in the battle to challenge male violence against women”, adding that it will “stop men literally getting away with murder by saying it’s what she wanted”.

The ‘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. 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 murder of 22-year-old British backpacker Grace Millane, who was strangled to death during sex by a Tinder date in New Zealand.

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

Although the amendment is a huge step forward, We Can’t Consent To This says there are still gaps the government must resolve. These include the fact that “non fatal strangulation is widely underprosecuted” – activists are calling for it to be made a specific serious offence – and that women’s sexual histories continue to be presented in court to support claims that they consented to violence.

The ban also doesn’t currently apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland. “We’ll continue to generate analysis and influence policy to improve outcomes for women,” We Can’t Consent To This concluded, “there is still so much to do.”