On a Monday morning in February, I sat opposite two detectives as my life as I knew it changed forever. They informed me that Sam, my husband of nearly 5 years, had left our house as I slept, strangled a woman to death and claimed it was a sex act that she consented to. Her name was Sophie Moss. He may have silenced her through his actions but when he left our home that night, he left me with something very powerful: a voice. And I intend to use it to raise awareness and prevent this from happening to others.
The Domestic Abuse Act, introduced in April, was meant to put an end to this so-called ‘rough sex’ defence, where men claim their sexual partner consented to the violence they inflicted on them. And yet last week, my ex-husband, Sam Pybus, was sentenced to just 4 years 8 months in prison for killing Sophie by claiming that she wanted to be strangled. He will only serve around 2 years. Where is the justice in this? Is this what Sophie’s life was really worth?
Rightly so, there has been a public backlash over his sentencing. The campaign group ‘We Can’t Consent To This’ has called it “outrageous” and Labour MP Harriet Harman, backed by others, has called on the attorney general to refer to the case to the Court of Appeal as unduly lenient.
The story has gained more traction than I anticipated or was prepared for. The last 7 months have emotionally drained me. It’s taken strength and courage I never knew I had to even just get out of bed and face the world each day.
Hearing Jess Phillips read Sophie’s name out in parliament on International Women’s Day as one of the 118 women killed by men in just one year in the UK was a particularly harrowing experience as Sam’s wife. His actions have not only impacted Sophie’s family, but also mine. My family and I have struggled to come to terms with what happened, and I cannot articulate how much this has impacted my mental health. In the small community I live in, I fear I will never shake the label of being known as his ex-wife. The whispers, stares and looks of sympathy are often overwhelming. However, I feel very strongly that this case needs the attention and justice that Sophie and her family deserve.
Sophie was only 33 and has left behind two young children who now have to grow up knowing the awful circumstances of how their mother died. She was an extremely vulnerable and lonely woman who suffered from mental and physical health issues. Sam, on the other hand, came from a good home with me, had a full-time job and was also at college in order to train to be a police officer. He had every opportunity given to him to have a good life. Instead, he chose to drive to Sophie’s flat after drinking 24 bottles of lager and perform an act that ended her life. I fully agree with Sophie’s brother, who said in his statement in court that she was 'taken advantage of and exploited' and Sam’s 'actions were born only from a desire of self-gratification'.
Celebrations over the changes to the Domestic Abuse Act were clearly premature, here is another man essentially getting away with murder.
The lack of respect for women in the crime and sentencing of this case is appalling and exemplifies the danger of misogyny that permeates our society more than ever. Over 60 women in the UK have been killed by men that claim it was a sex act. Celebrations over the changes to the Domestic Abuse Act were clearly premature; here is another man essentially getting away with murder, shifting the responsibility onto the woman by saying she ‘asked for it’. This trivialises violence against women and sets a dangerous precedent for other men to use the same defence. Considering the public uproar over the Sarah Everard case earlier this year and the mass shooting by incel-obsessed Jake Davison, Sam’s sentence makes a mockery of justice for women in the UK.
Porn has a lot to answer for here; it has normalised violence against women. Those who don’t want to be strangled, slapped, spat on, or punched during sex are derogatorily referred to as ‘vanilla’. Rough sex is not just fashionable; it has now become the norm. There are Tik Tok videos of 17-year-old boys bragging about choking girls in bed and spitting on them. In the comments sections, rather than cries of horror, 15-16-year-old girls are wishing for it to happen to them.
As a teacher, and after what my ex-husband did to Sophie, I find this extremely alarming. People need to be educated on the risks they are actually taking when engaging in these acts. As well as death, research has found that strangulation can lead to stroke, incontinence, speech disorders and long-term brain injury.
Men need to start questioning why they get a kick out of strangling a woman.
People need to ask themselves, is it really worth it?
And men in particular need to start questioning why they get a kick out of strangling a woman. Because, to me, knowing Sam as I do, his act was not about what Sophie wanted. His aim was to exert power and control over a woman. Let’s start calling it what it was: abuse.
I cannot stress how important it is to keep this conversation going. Sophie is not here to say that she consented to being strangled and she certainly did not consent to being killed. This is purely victim-blaming, and it is shameful.
I have stayed silent for 7 months, but the injustice of Sam’s sentencing last week has pushed me to take a stand. Not just for Sophie, but for women everywhere that deserve better. After all, it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.