The Domestic Abuse Bill Is Back In Parliament – Here’s What You Can Do To Help Ban The Rough Sex Defence

Campaigners are also calling for measures to stop the rise of non-consensual choking.

Grace Millane peace walk.

by Rhiannon Evans |
Updated on

The Domestic Abuse Bill is back in court tomorrow, after a long road – and there is still a chance that you can help change the law and pile on pressure to ban the ‘rough sex’ defence.

The bill, if passed in its current form, will ensure a number of measures designed to finally tackle domestic violence specifically, like creating a statutory definition of domestic abuse, including emotional, coercive and economic abuse – as well as violence. It will also enshrine the position of Domestic Abuse Commissioner. But campaigners have claimed it doesn’t go far enough – those cries are louder than ever in lockdown, given the rise of calls to helplines.

Alongside campaign group, We Can’t Consent To This (WCCTT) and MP Harriet Harman, Grazia has been campaigning to ban the ‘rough sex’ defence – and this will be debated in tomorrow afternoon's session. There is still time to sign our petition and email your MP to ask them to stand alongside us and push for the law to be changed.

Grace Millane
Grace Millane ©Getty

The ‘rough sex’ defence, (or so-called 50 Shades Defence) came to worldwide prominence aroundthe murder of Grace Millane. Her killer claimed her death, in 2018, had occurred as part of a sex game gone wrong. A jury totally rejected his claims and he was sentenced earlier this year for murder.

But, WCCTT have collected data (that was not being recorded previously) that proves that this defence is being used increasingly by men – and is working.

‘Pre-existing case law (R v Brown) makes it clear that a person cannot consent to injury or death during sex,’ says the group. ‘However, in 45% of cases where a man kills a woman during sex and claims she consented to it, this defence works. This results in the killing being prosecuted under a lesser charge – such as manslaughter – or even not treated as a crime at all.

‘In the five years from 2014, 20 women and girls have been killed in what the perpetrators defended as consensual sexual violence. Of the 20 women killed, only nine men were convicted of murder, nine were convicted of manslaughter, and one case resulted in no conviction.’

In 45% of cases where a man kills a woman during sex and claims she consented to it, this defence works.

Harriet Harman and MP Mark Garnier have long suggested an amendment to the bill to ban the defence but the bill was halted in December 2019 by the election. During the campaign, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised Grazia readers he would review this lawand support the amendment. On the bill’s first reading, the government announced they would launch a review into the law around the ‘rough sex’ defence. Campaigners are pushing for this review to be done and results added into the bill as soon as possible, or for the amendment already proposed to be accepted. Tomorrow’s second reading will see a debate on the law for the first time since it was reintroduced in March.

Fiona Mackenzie from WCCTT urged people to join the campaign. ‘Tomorrow we expect to hear from MPs how important it is to progress the Domestic Abuse bill and to bring an end to rough sex claims to avoid justice. We already have firm proposals on how to do this from Harriet Harman and Mark Garnier - this is supported by so many of Grazia's readers already and MPs from across the political parties - and is the minimum we can expect.

‘We know the government's own proposals can go even further than this, and we expect tomorrow to hear more on the timings of the government's review. We'd love it if Grazia readers could contact their MPs to ask them to support the passage of this vital bill and commit their support to ending these rough sex claims. Please continue to show the support for real change by sharing the petition and dropping your MP an email using this form.’

As part of tomorrow’s proceedings, Harriet Harman is also expected to introduce a clause make non-fatal strangulation a specific offence. Last year, we revealed there had been a rise in non-consensual choking on the UK dating scene.

Given the rise of rough sex defences, this is something WCCTT has been also calling for. The Centre for Women’s Justice is behind the call, too - they said: ‘CWJ is calling for a free-standing offence of non-fatal strangulation or asphyxiation. We believe that this form of offending is currently significantly under-charged across the UK. Our view is strongly supported by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the Victim’s Commissioner and numerous domestic abuse charities.’


READ MORE: No Woman Consents To Being Murdered

READ MORE: Let's End The 'Rough Sex' Defence

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