19:37, March 02 190 0 theguardian.com

2020-03-02 19:37:03
Government considers law to curb use of 'rough sex' defence

The government is examining what can be done to stop the use of the “rough sex” defence in courts to escape justice, officials have said, as a long-awaited domestic abuse bill finally returns to parliament.

The latest version of the bill is due to have its first reading in the House of Commons after it was stalled when Boris Johnson prorogued parliament and the general election was called.

Announcing its return to parliament, the Home Office said the government was considering how it could curb use of the defence, most recently highlighted during the trial of the killer of the British backpacker Grace Millane in New Zealand.

In that case, the murderer’s defence counsel argued that Millane, from Essex, died accidentally in a “tragic” event that resulted from a toxic combination of alcohol, inexperience with BDSM practices, and sexual passion going too far.

In the wake of the killer’s conviction, the campaign group We Can’t Consent to This revealed that in the past decade 30 women and girls had been killed in what was claimed to have been consensual violent sexual activity in the UK. Senior lawyers and women’s organisations called for a change to the law in the UK.

The domestic abuse bill looks broadly the same as before and still includes plans to force domestic abusers to take polygraph tests – commonly referred to as lie detectors – similar to ideas mooted for monitoring terrorists.

If the bill becomes law, a three-year pilot will be carried out on domestic abusers deemed at high risk of causing serious harm. If successful, the tests would be rolled out nationwide.

Among other proposals, the legislation pledges to ban perpetrators from cross-examining their victims during family court proceedings and could require councils to find safe accommodation for victims and their children – a measure the charity Women’s Aid said could be life-saving.

But the charity Crisis said this would not ensure victims fleeing domestic abuse had a “legal right to safe, permanent housing” and could put them at risk of spending years in temporary accommodation.

Court protection orders that ban perpetrators from contacting a victim or force them to take part in alcohol or drug treatment programmes could also be introduced under the laws.

Police costs for bringing the orders to court would be paid for by the government for two years while a pilot of the scheme took place.

A definition of domestic abuse would be set that recognises economic abuse – when a perpetrator controls a victim’s finances – as a specific type of the crime. It would also acknowledge the use of technology to target a victim.

Last year, Nicole Jacobs was appointed as the first domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales. The independent Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, which is still being set up, will be made a statutory body and publish reports on its findings.

Jacobs will be considering how the government can support children affected by domestic abuse, the Home Office said.

Of the 30 deaths linked to “rough sex” in the last decade, 17 resulted in men being convicted of murder, nine led to manslaughter convictions and two ended in acquittals. A further case ended in a murder conviction but only after the victim’s husband confessed; police had initially treated the death as non-suspicious. The case of one woman’s death has yet to go to court.

In 1996 there were two cases in which deaths and injuries to women were blamed on “rough sex”, a figure that had climbed to 20 by 2016.

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