The 'Rough Sex Gone Wrong' Defense Is Allowing Men To Literally Get Away With Murder | Opinion

Since forever, men have killed their wives and girlfriends. And they've always made excuses, even saying it was her fault that he killed her. In England and Wales we had the defense of "provocation" which would mean the charge of murder reduced to manslaughter. The man would admit that he'd killed her but blame her for provoking him. The provocation alleged being that she'd nagged him, or was unfaithful, or even worse, that she was planning to leave him. It was known amongst barristers as the "nagging and shagging" defense.

In Scotland the same excuse was known as the "infidelity defense." Distraught, bereaved relatives would sit in court and hear the defendant blame her for her death at his hands. She, of course, would not be there to defend herself as the man who killed her then defined her as a horrible slut. He would twist it around so that it would become he who was the victim of her behavior. The women's movement protested about this for decades but we only got in abolished as recently as 2009.

But now a very 21st century version of "she was asking for it" has reared its ugly head. Men are now getting away with murder, literally, by claiming that though they admit they caused the injuries which led to her death, it was not his fault as it was part of a "sex game gone wrong." She of course is not there to say otherwise. So he gets into the witness box and gives lurid, unchallengeable accounts of her addiction to violent sex and explains that the bruises that cover her body were what she wanted. The grieving relatives see him charged not with murder but only manslaughter. And they not only have to listen to him traducing her reputation in court but they have to see his description of her sexual proclivities splashed all over social media and in the newspapers. She's dead so he gets to tell the story of how he was only doing what she wanted.

Natalie Connolly, a young woman from the West Midlands, died 6 months after starting a relationship with millionaire property developer, John Broadhurst. He regaled the court with lurid details of the violence which he alleged she consented to. When her body was found at the bottom of the stairs, it was not only internal injuries—too awful to describe here—but old bruising on her breasts and buttocks which he says he inflicted at her request. Instead of a life sentence for murder, he got only 3 years 8 months for her manslaughter.

The campaign group "We Can't Consent To This" found that in 10 out of 20 cases in the UK in the last 5 years, the men got either a manslaughter charge rather than murder, or no conviction at all.

This is not just happening in the UK. In New Zealand, a young British woman was found dead in a suitcase. Grace Millane, aged 22, had been traveling the world after graduating with a university degree in advertising and marketing, exuberantly posting about her adventures on social media. While in Auckland, she met a man on Tinder and he killed her than night. But it was an accident, he pleaded in court. As her distraught parents sat in the public gallery he went into lurid detail about her love of rough sex. In this case the rough sex defense didn't work and he was convicted of murder, it didn't stop him making the world aware of what he alleged were her sexual preferences—and in too many cases the defense does work.

In May 2018, four women accused then New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of assault, citing slapping and choking. He faced no criminal charges after claiming it was all consensual sex. Women activists are demanding a change in the law there to tackle this.

For years, women contested the notion that only men could enjoy sex and that it was something women just had to submit to, arguing that women should be able to assert their own sexual enjoyment. What an irony that men are now using that narrative of women's sexual empowerment to justify injuring them and escape murder charges. Instead of life imprisonment they are out of prison in just a few years. Her grieving family are never free from their loss or from the stain on her character. This is truly the "50 shades of grey" defense.

And social media is now normalizing the notion that to enjoy sex women want it rough and to get injured. Research for BBC Radio showed that more than a third of UK women under the age of 40 have experienced unwanted slapping, choking, gagging or spitting during consensual sex.

We want a change in the law to outlaw the "rough sex gone wrong" defense so that if his actions kill her, he's guilty of murder irrespective of whatever she consented to by way of sex. Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised during the general election campaign that he would outlaw this defense in the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill. This is one promise we'll make sure he keeps.

Harriet Harman QC MP is Mother of the House of Commons and Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.