• Clodagh Meaney

England and Wales officially ban 'rough sex' defence - but what does it mean?

The so-called defence is often used in cases where someone causes someone else serious harm or death during sexual activity.


The UK Government have officially banned the so-called 'rough sex defence' in England and Wales.


It comes as this week they published an amendment to their Domestic Abuse bill which means that people cannot use "serious harm for sexual gratification" as a defence.

Previously law meant that if someone kills someone else during sexual activity they could be subject to the lesser charge of manslaughter instead of murder.


In cases of murder, prosecution would need to prove intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm (GBH).


The new amendment means people can no longer claim that they did not mean to kill or harm their victim by using "rough sex gone wrong" as a defence.


The news was welcomed this week by campaigners We Can't Consent To This.


Founded on the premise of women being unable to consent to "grievous injury or death," the campaign have petitioned for a change in law since the death of Natalie Connolly in December 2016.


Natalie Connolly

The 26-year-old was killed by her partner John Broadhurst in the home they shared in Kinver, near Stourbridge in the UK.


The 41-year-old left his girlfriend "drunk and bleeding" after the pair had sex following an alcohol and cocaine binge.


He called emergency services the next morning when he found her at the foot of the stairs deceased.


A paramedic pronounced Natalie dead at the scene. A post-mortem later concluded that she had died from a mix of alcohol intoxication and her injuries.


She had suffered 40 separate injuries including internal trauma, a fractured eye socket and facial wounds.

During the trial, which took place in November 2018, a gynaecology expert, Professor Janesh Gupta, told the jury that among Natalie's injuries there were three deep cuts to her vagina.


The injuries were believed to have been caused by "the insertion of a sharp-edged plastic object."


Her partner told police that the object broke inside her as he tried to pull it out, but after unsuccessfully doing so, he went to bed.


John Broadhurst, a millionaire businessman, claimed that it was "rough sex gone too far," after the court heard that Natalie previously told friends the pair enjoyed BDSM sex.


He pled guilty to manslaughter by gross negligence, and received a sentence of three years and eight months in prison.


According to the We Can't Consent To This campaign, since 1972, upwards of 60 women have been killed by men who later claimed it was "rough sex gone wrong."


"In the last five years the defence was successful in seven of the 17 killings of a woman which reached trial, with the man being found not guilty or receiving a manslaughter conviction."

Founder of the movement, Fiona McKenzie told Dazed “This appears to be a totally traditional male violence against women that seems to be absolutely in-line with wider violence against women."


“But for some reason in the criminal justice system, and to some extent in the news media as well when it’s reported, it’s believed that the women have said ‘yes, I want to be horribly injured. I want to be hospitalised by my sex life’.”


“Often, you’ll find nothing about the person who has died beyond their name and these lurid accusations that she consented to all kinds of sexual activity before she died,” she continued.


“If we’re going as far back as the 90s and 2000s, there’s women’s names splashed across newspapers under the headlines ‘kinky sex mum’, ‘BDSM college student’," she explained.


Celebrating the victory for women across the UK, the campaign marked the news.


"I'm so proud of us, of what we've done. We Can't Consent To This have done this around our day jobs, we're volunteers, all of us furiously committed to changing outcomes for women."


"Some of us knew women who've been killed and were determined to not let what happened to their friend happen again," said Fiona.


"For nearly50 years, the criminal justice system has failed so many women - it's in all of their honour that we've fought this. We couldn't have done this without brilliant MPs: Harriet Harman, Mark Garnier, and Laura Farris, and all the others who've worked together across party lines to change this."


Fiona said they still have work to do to ensure that Scotland and Northern Ireland follow suit.


"We'll keep going, this isn't law yet, and will apply only in England and Wales: Scotland and Northern Ireland must be next. And we'll continue to generate analysis and influence policy to improve outcomes for women."


"There is so much still to do," she concluded.


It is not yet known if there are plans to remove the defence in Northern Ireland and Scotland.


If you have been affected by any of the themes in this article, please reach out:

Rape Crisis Centre - 1800 77 88 88

Women’s Aid -  1800 34 19 00

Samaritans - 116 123

Pieta House - 1800 247 247

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