Britain set to outlaw 'rough sex' defence in murder trials

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 7 July 2020 15:59 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A woman comforts her friend at a vigil for murdered British backpacker Grace Millane in Wellington, New Zealand December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Charlotte Greenfield

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Campaigners say the legal change would set a precedent for other countries to follow

By Emma Batha

LONDON, July 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain is set to become the first country to outlaw the "rough sex" defence in homicide trials, setting a precedent that campaigners said on Tuesday could spur other jurisdictions to follow suit.

The issue gained worldwide attention following the 2018 murder in New Zealand of British backpacker Grace Millane whose killer said she died accidentally during consensual sex.

Women's rights campaigners say the normalisation of violent sex in popular culture means men facing criminal charges for harming women are increasingly claiming the violence was consensual.

Lawmakers in Britain agreed late on Monday to include a new clause in the Domestic Abuse Bill that would end the use of the rough sex defence.

"We're thrilled. This is a really big deal," said Fiona Mackenzie, founder of campaign group We Can't Consent To This, which has led calls for a change in the law.

"MPs have voted to make it crystal clear that you cannot consent to serious violence or your own death. There's been a real absence of clarity in the law. MPs are drawing a line in the sand and saying this is not acceptable."

Mackenzie said there had been 60 killings of women where the defence had been used and many more cases where women had been badly injured. The rough sex defence has often led to a lesser charge, lighter sentence or the investigation being dropped.

"We're hearing very frequently from women who have been violently assaulted or raped that police and prosecutors are not pursuing these charges because they believed a rough sex defence would be used," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

British lawmaker Laura Farris told parliament the campaign to ban the defence had attracted attention in other countries where courts have dealt with similar cases, including New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Hungary, Germany and France.

Mackenzie said academics in Canada and New Zealand were already looking at pushing for similar reforms.

The Domestic Abuse Bill - expected to pass later this year - applies to England and Wales, but Mackenzie said she hoped Scotland and Northern Ireland would also make changes.

We Can't Consent to This was set up following the death of Natalie Connolly, a 26-year-old mother-of-one whose body was found with multiple injuries at the home she shared with her millionaire partner John Broadhurst.

Broadhurst was sentenced to three years and eight months after saying Connolly had consented to rough sex.

In a message read out in parliament on Monday, Connolly's father Alan Andrews said: "There is no way that a man should be able to bat away brutal sexual violence as just an accident ...

"Natalie is no longer here to tell us what he did to her ... One thing is for certain: Natalie didn't fantasise about being killed or leaving her daughter without a mum that night."

Millane's attacker was sentenced to life in February after a jury in New Zealand rejected his defence that the 22-year-old died accidentally during consensual sex.

Related stories:   

Murder case brings fresh calls to ban 'rough sex' defence

New Zealand jury convicts man of murdering British backpacker

UK domestic abuse chief fears more murders as lockdown eases

(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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