The ‘Rough Sex’ Defence – A New Form of Victim Blaming?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

On 9th December 2018, Grace Millane was found dead in Auckland, New Zealand. The British citizen went missing after going on a Tinder date on 1st December – the eve of her 22nd birthday. Her 26-year old date was convicted of the murder on 22nd December 2018. 

The Millane case attracted a lot of international attention and media coverage. However, when new ‘evidence’ emerged, reportage of the event took on a slightly different tone. The defendant used what is known as the ‘rough sex’ defence. He claimed that Grace had asked him to choke her during sex and that she had died as a result of this. This claim was further ‘supported’ when Grace’s ex-boyfriend testified that he and Grace had engaged in BDSM practices. However, after taking all other evidence into account, the defendant was found guilty with first degree murder and will be sentenced in February 2020.

The Millane case reflects a disturbing trend; that is, the growing use of the rough sex defence. This is when the murderer states that the victim asked for the conduct that led to their eventual death. This defence was also used in the high-profile case of Natalie Connolly, a 26 year old British woman killed by her boyfriend who claimed that she had died during alcohol and drug-infused rough sex. Despite the fact that Natalie’s body was found with over 40 injuries including blunt-force trauma to her head and breast, the defendant was given the lesser charge of manslaughter. The campaign group We Can’t Consent To This report 59 femicide cases in the UK in which this defence was used, 45% of which led to a lesser charge than murder.

The reality is that the growing popularity of the rough sex defence is simply a new form of victim blaming and slut-shaming. This is a way to lift the blame from the murderer and place it on the victim for the crime of being a sexually active woman in the 21st century. When Grace’s interest in BDSM was revealed to the public, headlines suddenly shifted their focus onto that, and not the fact that she had been murdered. The rough sex defence changes the classic question from ‘but what were you wearing?‘ to ‘but what did you ask him to do to you?‘. Except, in this case, the victim cannot answer.

The growing normalisation of this defence reflects the growing normalisation of violence in porn. A 2010 study showed that 88.2% of porn depicts violence against women. Those using the rough sex defence to can easily point to the rise of BDSM practices in mainstream porn in order to justify violent and murderous behaviour. BDSM practices are not inherently harmful. However, if these behaviours are learned exclusively from watching porn, then viewers are not learning the underlying principles of safety and consent.

All in all, the facts remain. Grace Millane was not killed by her sexual preferences. Grace Millane was killed by a violent and homicidal man. Having a preference for rough sex is not the same as having a death wish. In an age where the rough sex defence is becoming increasingly common, it must remain clear: consenting to being choked as not the same as consenting to being murdered.

 

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WS Sub-Editor 2019/20. Final year languages and linguistics student from Northern Ireland. Normally found looking slightly frazzled with headphones in and coffee in hand.

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