Let’s End The ‘Rough Sex’ Defence

Sign Grazia's petition to change the law.

Some of the victims of the 'rough sex' defence, according to We Can't Consent To This

by Rhiannon Evans |
Updated on


By now, you’ll likely know the name Grace Millane. On the eve of her 22nd birthday last year, the British backpacker was strangled to death by a man she met on Tinder. Last month, he was convicted of her murder after failing to persuade a jury in his native New Zealand that her death was the result of a sex game gone wrong. The case has made headlines worldwide, with Grace’s family and friends not only enduring unspeakable loss, but having had to witness claims about her sexual and private life made public – claims she is unable to challenge.

But, horrifyingly, the ‘rough sex’ claim attempted by the defence in Grace’s case is becoming increasingly common in courts. Fifty nine UK women have been killed and many more injured in what is claimed to be ‘consensual’ violent sex, according to campaign group We Can’t Consent To This (founded by actuary Fiona Mackenzie, who was outraged by what was happening). In the last five years, the defence was successful in almost half of the killings that went to trial.
That’s why Grazia, alongside We Can’t Consent To This and Harriet Harman MP, is now campaigning to end the so-called ‘50 Shades’ defence – and asking for your support in backing our petition.

Grace Millane
Grace Millane

‘We want to add a clause to the Domestic Abuse Bill which states that, when a man kills a woman, he cannot claim as a defence that she consented to the violence which led to her death,’ says Harman. ‘As it stands, he can make claims about her sexual habits which are unchallengeable, as she’s not there to speak up against him. It leaves families absolutely distraught and, ultimately, it’s a way of him avoiding responsibility for what he’s done.’

As it stands, he can make claims about her sexual habits which are unchallengeable, as she’s not there to speak up against him.

Harman has strong cross-party support and is working to push through the bill amendment with Tory MP Mark Garnier, whose constituency is home to Natalie Connolly’s family. In 2016, 26-year-old Natalie was killed by her partner John Broadhurst. The mum-of-one suffered 40 separate injuries – including a fractured eye socket and blunt-force injuries to her head – which Broadhurst claimed were from consensual ‘rough sex’ fuelled by alcohol and drugs. He was alleged to have sprayed her face with bleach to clean the blood before leaving her at the bottom of the stairs, stepping over her lifeless body the next morning to have breakfast and clean the car, before calling the emergency services and telling police she was ‘dead as a doughnut’. He’s serving a manslaughter sentence of three years and eight months.

So what can we all do to help? Email all the candidates in your constituency and ask: Do you pledge to ban the ‘50 Shades’ defence under the Domestic Abuse Bill? There’s a template at wecantconsenttothis.uk. And sign our petition.

And lastly, don’t let those unchallengeable assertions in court be the way these victims are remembered. ‘I, for one, will only listen to what her [the victim’s] family says about her,’ says Harman. ‘Why should [the murderer] get to define her? Let’s remember them the way they should be remembered.’

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READ MORE: No Woman Consents To Being Murdered

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