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UK Announces Ban On “Rough Sex Gone Wrong” As A Defense to Murder

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Jul 2, 2020

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Image credit: PA

The UK government has announced that a ban on the “rough sex defense” will be included in the country’s domestic abuse bill, set to be enacted into law later this year.

The defense to murder — also called the “fifty shades of grey” defense — has been increasingly used by men in court to claim that the fatal injuries they inflicted upon women were consensual, and a result of “rough sex gone wrong.” This has resulted in lesser charges or lighter sentences for them, if not acquittals. Through the new legislation, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has definitively stated that consent cannot be used as a defense to actual bodily harm. “No death or other serious injury — whatever the circumstances — should be defended as ‘rough sex gone wrong,'” Alex Chalk, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the MoJ, said. Activists have strenuously argued that the defense must be banned because no person who consents to rough sex acts also consents to dying.

The earliest example of the defense being used in the UK was in 1972, and the defendant pleaded that he was merely trying to satisfy the deceased’s sexual desires. Since 2010, its use has rocketed by 90 percent. And, in fact, since 2016, more than 20 women a year have been killed or injured, and defendants have argued that they were simply instances of sex games gone wrong. The ban is intended to curb the use of this defense and prevent it from being further entrenched through judicial precedent.


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“It helps the perpetrators to frame it like this. Men have always murdered women, this is just a new way of getting rid of them,” Louise Perry, who co-runs We Can’t Consent To This, the organization that had been leading the campaign to ban the defense, told The Independent. Harriet Harman, Labor MP, also noted that the defense is particularly difficult for victim’s families — not only does it enable men to get away with reduced sentences, it also draws unwarranted attention to the deceased’s sexual behavior and bedroom practices.

The ban is being welcomed amid a dramatic rise in domestic abuse cases under lockdown. A UK-based survey in April by Women’s Aid found that not only has domestic abuse escalated during lockdown, but two-thirds of the victims are stuck with their abusive partners. Since the lockdown started, the number of deaths resulting from domestic abuse has also grown from two deaths per week to an average of five deaths per week, according to another report published in April.

At present, the campaigners want this amendment to be made applicable to Scotland and Northern Ireland as well. “We’ll continue to generate analysis and influence policy to improve outcomes for women. There is still so much to do,” We Can’t Consent To This said in a statement.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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