A legal defence used by men to claim a woman's death occurred during consensual rough sex is being reviewed by the government. The "rough sex" defence, as it has come to be known, has been used in 30 UK cases in the past decade alone, the Guardian reported in Nov. 2019. The defence which, if successful, can result in a lesser sentence, has been used in cases that have resulted in 18 murder convictions, nine manslaughter convictions, and two acquittals. (Another case is still yet to reach court, per the paper.)
Fiona Mackenzie, founder of the We Can't Consent To This campaign group, recently told The Sun it had counted 67 cases, dating back to the '70s, where women from the UK "have been killed in claimed sex 'gone wrong.'" Notably, the "rough sex" defence was used in the New Zealand murder trial of British backpacker Grace Millane. Per the Telegraph, the 22-year-old's killer claimed Millane accidentally died when consensual sex "went wrong."
Campaigners have been urging the government to stop consent being used to defend violent cases, thereby curbing the idea that someone can consent to their own murder. Now, following a reintroduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill into Parliament, their message is finally being given the time of day.
Thanks to elections and leadership changes, this vital bill has been delayed for months. Getting its first parliamentary reading in July 2019, it was pushed aside when Parliament dissolved four months later. The process to legislate the bill has been forced to start all over again with the first reading taking place on March 3, per Grazia.
The original bill sought to create a wider statutory definition of domestic abuse in England and Wales, including emotional and economic manipulation as well as physical violence. It also aimed to ban in-person cross-examination of accusers by alleged perpetrators and introduce legislation that would help police protect victims at an earlier stage. Another part of the bill — the appointment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner — was fulfilled in Sep. 2019.
But MP Harriet Harman has requested an amendment to the current bill, per Grazia, focusing on ending the rough sex defence. (There's no word yet on when this may or may not be accepted.) In a statement, the Home Office said it had begun a review 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."
Harman's amendment already states two strategies. It would firstly prevent "a defendant, when he has admitted his actions caused injury, from arguing or raising the defence of consent, if the injuries resulted in GBH or death," she explained to iNews. Secondly, it would stop prosecutors from reducing a murder charge in such cases.
There are concerns the government's review won't have finished before the Domestic Abuse Bill is passed. But Harman is pushing for this not to happen. "I am asking the government to set out a time table of the review and we have a draft amendment already," she told iNews.
Mackenzie, from We Can't Consent To This, told Grazia the review "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."
Other campaign groups have separate concerns about the reintroduced bill, Grazia reports. These include not making local councils provide long-term accommodation for survivors, failing to support migrant women, and failing to clearly state where refuge funding would come from.