How ‘Rough Sex Gone Wrong’ Became A Horrifyingly Common Line Of Defence In The UK

There’s been outcry over Grace Millane’s killer wrongly claiming she consented to being strangled – but the issue of men saying women have a hand in their own assaults is chillingly far reaching, says Rhiannon Evans.

Grace Millane

by Rhiannon Evans |
Updated on

Just this month, a ‘consent’ defence has been mentioned in at least five cases involving homicides or assaults against UK women.

The ‘consent’ or 50 Shades defence, where an accused (in all these cases a man) claims the victim (in all these cases a woman) had consented to all or part of what happened to them has gained mass media coverage in recent weeks following the murder trial of Essex backpacker, Grace Millane.

Grace’s murderer was found guilty of killing her yesterday. He (who was allowed to remain anonymous throughout the trial) claimed it was a case of ‘sex game gone wrong’, but his defence was unanimously rejected by the jury. During the trial – aside from allegations about Grace’s sexual preferences that were widely reported – the court heard he’d taken pictures of her body and left her to go on another date, before putting her into a suitcase and burying her in the Waitakere mountains.

Campaign group, We Can’t Consent To This, though, tells Grazia that Grace is just one of six UK women, across five trials just this month (one trial includes more than one woman), where the accused has claimed an element of consent by the victim and that a sex game had gone wrong.

All women are affected by the trial of these women's sexual histories, by blaming them for their own deaths.

Along with MPs Harriet Harman and Mark Garnier, they are campaigning to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill in England and Wales so that defence can no longer be used.

The campaign has found 59 UK women who’ve been killed by men who claim ‘a sex game gone wrong’ – in the last five years, the defence was successful in nine of the 18 killings which reached trial, with the man being found not guilty or receiving a lesser conviction.

Founder Fiona Mackenzie told us: ‘We too often hear these women's killings or injuries reported as isolated, lurid incidents, that those women must have known what they were asking for. But all women are affected by the trial of these women's sexual histories, by blaming them for their own deaths.

‘And there has been a tenfold increase in these claims since 2000, 20 women killed in the last five years. And as we see, in the last few weeks - news reports of six women killed or injured by men who claim the women were asking for the violence.’

Grace Millane
Grace Millane ©Shutterstock

For legal reasons, we cannot outline all of the cases here, but Grazia has read details of them all.

One concerns John Broadhurst, who was handed a sentence of three years and eight months in admitting a lesser charge of manslaughter by gross negligence for failing to get medical help for his partner, Natalie Connolly.

The case caused a huge outcry when he was sentenced in December, but this month, on 14 November, Broadhurst – who left Natalie injured and bleeding to die after claiming she’d been injured during ‘rough sex’ – was in court again and lost an appeal to have his prison sentence cut.

Broadhurst, 41, left mother of one, Connolly, 26, ‘drunk and bleeding’ at the foot of their stairs at their home, near Stourbridge, after they had sex following an alcohol and cocaine binge. The next morning, he called 999, claiming he’d found her dead at the bottom of the stairs.

Natalie had suffered 40 separate injuries, serious internal trauma, a fractured eye socket and facial wounds. Connolly claimed the injuries to her head, buttocks and breasts and the fact he’d sprayed her face with bleach to clean off the blood, were from consensual ‘rough sex’. He was initially tried for murder, but was cleared by the jury on the judge’s direction.

The case sparked the founding of We Can’t Consent To This. The group is calling on MPs to bring the Domestic Abuse Bill back to parliament after the election, including a clause that would end the use of ‘consent’ claims in the violent injury or killing of women.

To find out how you can support them, go to

READ MORE: No Woman Consents To Being Murdered

READ MORE: The Man Accused Of Killing Grace Millane Has Been Found Guilty

READ MORE: Harriet Harman: 'We Need To Stop Sexual Liberation Being Used As A Defence For Men Killing Women'

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