Domestic Abuse Bill: MPs back ban on ‘chilling rough sex defence’

UK
Woman on bed Image copyright Science Photo Library

A ban on killers using the “rough sex defence” in England and Wales is set to become law after MPs supported an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill.

The bill now rules out “consent for sexual gratification” as a defence for causing serious harm.

The wide-ranging legislation will also place a duty on councils in England to provide shelter for victims of abuse.

It has been broadly welcomed by campaigners but some said it failed to protect groups such as migrant women.

The bill, which covers England and Wales, has passed its final stage in the Commons and will now be debated in the House of Lords.

It was introduced with cross-party support by Theresa May’s government in July last year but its passage was delayed by December’s general election.

The government said the bill would ensure that children who saw, heard or experienced the effects of domestic abuse would be treated as victims under law.

It would also introduce the first legal government definition of domestic abuse, including economic abuse and coercive or controlling non-physical behaviour.

Speaking in the Commons, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said one of the most “chilling and anguished” developments in recent times had been the increased use of the “so-called rough sex defence”.

Moving a new clause which would ban the defence in England and Wales court proceedings, she said: “We’ve been clear that there is no such defence to serious harm which results from rough sex.

“But there is a perception that such a defence exists and that it is being used by men, and it is mostly men in these types of cases, to avoid convictions for serious offences or to receive a reduction in any sentence where they are convicted.”

Welcoming the move, Labour’s shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, Jess Phillips, paid tribute to Natalie Connolly, who died in 2016.

The 26-year-old’s partner left her for dead with 40 separate injuries – he admitted manslaughter but was cleared of murder after claiming she was hurt during consensual sexual activity.

“Natalie Connolly’s name and story has rung out around this chamber, been told in many newspapers and the bravery of her family will see this law changed,” Ms Phillips said.

“Today, I don’t want to remember her for how she died, or to allow a violent man to get to say what her story was.

“I simply want to remember Natalie, a brilliant, beautiful, bright mother, sister, daughter.”

Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Ms Phillips paid tribute to Natalie Connolly in the Commons

Campaign group We Can’t Consent To This, which wants to make it the expectation that murder charges will be brought against those suspected of killing a person during sex, has hailed the amendment as a “victory”.

The current law says that if someone kills another person during sexual activity they could be charged with manslaughter alone, while to murder someone, there needs to have been an intention to kill that person or to cause them grievous bodily harm (GBH).

We Can’t Consent To This has collated 60 examples of women “who were killed during so-called ‘sex games gone wrong'” in the UK, since 1972.

The group claims that 45% of these cases ended in a “lesser charge of manslaughter, a lighter sentence or the death not being investigated as a crime at all”.

There are also 115 people – all but one of whom were women – who have had to attend court where it is claimed they consented to violent injury, the group has said.

‘Important omissions’

Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, described the bill as “a landmark piece of legislation”.

However, she said there were “some very important omissions”, including protections for victims of domestic violence who committed crimes in the context of being in an abusive relationship.

Other campaigners have said the legislation needs additions to better protect migrant women.

Gisela Valle, director of the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, said the bill had no provision for safe reporting mechanisms, meaning migrant women who reported abuse to police could be questioned about their immigration status and even detained.

Additionally, some immigrants with an insecure status cannot currently access public funds or housing and refuge support.

Ms Phillips also raised the issue of victims of domestic abuse who are migrants and have no recourse to public funds.

She told the Commons “it cannot be right” that “humans, who when they have been raped, beaten, controlled and abused, before we ask them how we can help, first we ask what stamp is in their passport”.

Ms Atkins said the government was launching a £1.5m pilot fund to support migrant victims of domestic abuse who are unable to access public funds.

Please follow and like us: