'Rough Sex' Defence Banned in the UK, Landmark Judgment for Women

For far too long women have been violated under vague claims of understanding what they want. It's time to stop claiming.

Tanvi Akhauri
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The UK's draconian "rough sex" defence, has officially been outlawed. The defence allowed perpetrators accused of sexual assault that led to the death of the victim to reduce their murder sentence by claiming that their victim died due to injuries from consensual rough sex. This decision comes following an 18-month campaign led by organisation We Can't Consent To This (WCCTT), which documented at least 60 dead women and several others injured in the UK by men who used this defence to claim that the incidents were "sex games gone wrong."


The provision for this ban has been included as a clause in the UK's landmark Domestic Abuse Bill "to drive out “consent for sexual gratification” as a defence in court proceedings for causing serious harm," The Independent reported. Fiona Mackenzie, WCCTT founder, was quoted saying, “I’m so proud of us, of what we have done. Some of us knew women who’ve been killed and were determined to not let what happened to their friend happen again. For nearly 50 years, the criminal justice system has failed so many women — it’s in all of their honour that we have fought this."

Background to the 'Rough Sex' Defence

While the "rough sex" defence has been in use since the 1980s, it began to garner public attention and fury only after the notable murders of Natalie Connolly in the UK and Grace Millane in New Zealand. In 2016, Connolly died after sustaining vaginal and 40 other injuries and her perpetrator appealed that it was only at the behest of her "masochistic desires" that he had done so, according to Grazia. Then in 2018, Millane's death was publicised for its gory manner of strangulation and dumping of the body in a suitcase. The perpetrator, whom Millane had met via Tinder, appealed in court using the 'rough sex' defence, but medical experts found that her death had resulted from "unrelenting physical pressure and strength for five to 10 minutes," Mashable reported.

Also Read: Falling Asleep After Rape Is “Unbecoming Of An Indian Woman,” Says Karnataka HC. Grants Bail To Rape Accused

WTTCC has claimed that in the last five years, the "sex games gone wrong" defence was "successful in seven of the 17 killings of women which reached trial, with the accused being found not guilty or receiving a manslaughter conviction." It also confirmed, "And no, we’ve found no women killing or injuring a man in sex gone wrong." The "rough sex"defence has also been criticised widely for causing intense trauma to the kin of the victim since private details of their daughters' sex lives are discussed in open court.

As per the new judgment, Justice Minister Alex Chalk says, that it was "unconscionable" for the "rough sex" defence to be used in court to justify the killing of a woman "because she consented" to sex, The Independent reported. He added that the accused will now be "pursued rigorously through the courts to seek justice."


She will clarify what she wants exactly

The WTTCC reports that about 38 percent women under the age of 40 in the UK are assaulted, even in consensual sex. This opens up several questions, limited not just to the UK, but across the globe. The biggest, of course, is the question of consent. Universally, men must realise that if a woman wants rough sex, she will specify what she wants, and where she wants it to stop. If she doesn't, then they cannot force themselves on her. It seems silly to even spell something as simple as this out, but this is the stage of incompetency we're at right now. Where we women have to be thankful to men for not harming us, or worse, killing us.

Also Read: Consent Can Only Be Taught Through Communication And Engagement

Sexual assault is not rough sex. Simple.

The "rough sex" defence, lends itself to a lesser discussed argument, especially here in India, that brings attention to a woman's desire for"rough" or "aggressive" sexual encounters, such as BDSM (Bondage/Discipline, Sadism/Masochism). Some women may enjoy being dominated, while some may enjoy dominating the partner - which to an uninitiated person may seem wrong. However, the key part of all such engagements is consent and respect of each other's agency and knowing when to stop.

Also Read: Takes A Boys Locker Room for Us To Notice How Women Are Trolled, Threatened Every Single Day?


The important word is boundary.

If a woman consents to "rough sex", that is not a license for assaulting her or causing her grievous harm. If she wants to be pleasured with pain, let her draw the boundaries based on how much she wants to endure. She is not a punching bag. She should be asked for consent every single time - for the biggest acts, and down to the ones that seem trivial. Her withdrawal of consent at any second - before the act, in the beginning, or even halfway through it - counts as valid.

For far too long women have been violated under vague claims of understanding what they want. It's time to stop claiming. Just ask them and let them answer.

Tanvi Akhauri is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. Views expressed are the author's own. 

sexual crimes against women sexual agency rough sex women and consent