Government Launches Review Into The ‘Rough Sex’ Defence

The Domestic Abuse Bill is back in parliament with plans to change the law on the 'rough sex' defence - but some charities are warning it doesn't go far enough.

The domestic abuse bill is returning to parliament

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

The government has announced there will be a review into the 'rough sex' defence, as part of its newly introduced Domestic Abuse Bill, following a campaign by Grazia, We Can't Consent To Thisand Harriet Harman MP.

This morning it was announced the government would re-introduce the Domestic Abuse Bill to Parliament, where it received its first reading. The Bill is said to include the first ever definition of domestic abuse and place a legal duty on local authorities to support victims and their children in refuges.

Last September, the Bill was dropped when Boris Johnson prorogued Parliament – under which circumstances all existing Bills automatically lapse.

But, as the Bill returned for its first reading, a number of domestic abuse charities have spoken out in support of it, while also condemning the fact certain elements have not been included.

As of yet, it is unclear whether Grazia’s petition to end the rough sex defence – which has been used by 59 men in the UK to receive not-guilty or lesser sentences by claiming a woman's death took place during 'rough sex' and therefore the violence was at least partly consented to – will become law. This could still happen if the government accepted an amendment by MP Harriet Harman, and backed by campaign group We Can't Consent To This, into the final bill once the review is completed.

A Home Office press release today said, 'The government has begun a review into what support can be provided to migrant victims of domestic abuse, in addition to looking at what more can done to stop the so called ‘rough sex’ defence being used by perpetrators in court to attempt to escape justice.'

We won't stop pushing for better outcomes for women

Campaigners are now putting pressure on MPs to ensure that the review is done before the bill has its final reading, so the amendment to ban the 'rough sex' defence (as the killer of Grace Millane attempted and failed to use) could still then become law.

Fiona Mackenzie of We Can't Consent To This, said: 'We’re backing amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill that make it clear that consent cannot be a defence in cases of serious violence, including murder. We welcome the government’s announcement today that there is to be a review of the use of the ‘rough sex’ defence – a review that we insist must be completed before the Bill reaches the House of Lords.

'We think this could be an incredible chance for the government to look at all the options to end the rough sex defences - but we need action soon as more of these cases come through the courts all the time. We're waiting closely to hear more on what the government propose to look at in this review - and when they'll do this - but we're cautiously hopeful this review could be very good news. We won't stop pushing for better outcomes for women.'

During the election, in December, Grazia questioned all the then-party leaders, and Boris Johnson stated he would back moves to ban the defence, ‘Yes, absolutely – like many others I was frustrated that this Bill couldn’t progress because of the gridlock in Parliament,’ said Boris Johnson at the time. ‘If we are elected with a majority, we’ll bring this Bill back as soon as possible. I agree with Harriet Harman that the ‘50 shades defence’ is unacceptable and we’ll make sure the law is clear on this.’

Grace Millane
Grace Millane ©Getty

Elsewhere in the bill, the legal obligation on local councils to provide long-term housing to survivors of domestic abuse is not included – something domestic abuse charity Crisis has been campaigning for for years.

‘We’re pleased that the government has re-introduced the domestic abuse Bill, but we’re deeply concerned that it still does not provide survivors fleeing domestic abuse with a legal right to safe, permanent housing,’ says Hannah Gousy, head of policy and campaigns, in a statement.

‘At this very moment, up and down the country, people are making the incredibly brave decision to flee their abuser only to come up against a system that says they aren’t vulnerable enough to access a home,’ she continued. ‘How as a society can we put people in a position where they either have to risk their life returning to their abuser or face life on the streets – this has to change. Putting lives in danger has to stop. We continue to urge the government to see sense on this matter and amend the Bill so that anyone fleeing domestic abuse is guaranteed a safe, settled home.’

Women’s Aid were also concerned by the lack of clarity in funding for refuges across the UK and the exclusion of migrant women in the Bill.

‘We estimate that funding support for a safe and sustainable national network of refuges requires £173 million annually, a fraction of the £66 billion domestic abuse costs society every year,’ Adina Claire, acting co-CEO of Women’s Aid, said in a press release. ‘Without clarity about where the money is coming from, the future of the national network of refuges is not yet secure.

We do not need further government reviews, we need action

‘In its current form, the Bill does nothing to support migrant women experiencing domestic abuse,’ she continued. ‘We do not need further government reviews, we need action to ensure migrant women can safely report to the police and other agencies and access support services. Until we have a Bill that protects every woman and child, regardless of their immigration status, we will continue to see migrant women and children left with the impossible choice of returning to their perpetrator or sleeping rough.'

Women’s Aid also stated that the Bill should include a law to make survivors ‘automatically eligible for special protection measures in the family and civil courts, not only the criminal courts.’ The current bill includes a wider ban on cross-examination in family courts, which can be traumatising for women suffering domestic abuse, but Women's Aid warned that ‘there remains a long way to go before family courts will be truly safe for women and children’.

‘Tackling the culture of "contact at all costs" in the family courts remains a fundamental priority in order to keep survivors and their children safe after separation,’ Claire concluded.

To find out more about the bill, which was first promised three years ago, click here****__. To sign Grazia's petition to end the 'rough sex' defence, click here.

Read More:

Boris Johnson Will Reintroduce The Domestic Abuse Bill When Parliament Returns, But MPs Will Have To Start From Scratch

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