07:47, April 28 231 0 theguardian.com

2020-04-28 07:47:04
MPs to try to ban 'rough sex' murder defence in domestic abuse bill

MPs are to try to outlaw the courtroom murder defence of “rough sex gone wrong” during parliamentary debates on the domestic abuse bill, as cases of domestic violence soar during the coronavirus lockdown.

The repeatedly delayed legislation comes before MPs on Tuesday amid calls for a specific ban on “non-fatal strangulation”, and threats of legal action over the provision of accommodation for domestic abuse survivors during the pandemic.

The government has promised to look at what has been called the “fifty shades” defence to murder during sex, but has not yet announced any detailed legislative wording to introduce a ban.

An amendment backed by the Labour MP Harriet Harman and the Conservative MP Mark Garnier is likely to be the focus of efforts to prevent anyone charged with murder escaping justice by alleging that the victim had consented to sex games.

The campaign to change the law has been led by the organisation We Can’t Consent to This which has calculated that more than 20 women a year are injured or killed when it is claimed that sex games have gone wrong.

The organisation also supports a call by the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) for MPs to include a new offence of “non-fatal strangulation” in the domestic abuse bill.

Harriet Wistrich, the director of the CWJ, said: “Offenders are getting away with little or no punishment for this terrifying and dangerous offence. Police and prosecutors are not taking this offending sufficiently seriously. A simple amendment to the domestic abuse bill, making non-fatal strangulation a specific serious offence, could provide a remedy and help reduce femicide.”

The bill also contains clauses requiring domestic abusers to take polygraph tests – commonly referred to as lie detector tests – on release, and regulations to ban perpetrators from cross-examining victims during family court proceedings.

In a related development, Southall Black Sisters and the Public Interest Law Centre are launching a legal challenge against Robert Jenrick, the housing, communities and local government secretary, –for the department’s “failure to provide emergency funding for adequate accommodation for domestic abuse survivors during the Covid-19 crisis”.

The organisations said: “Between 23 March and 12 April 2020, the number of recorded killings of women rose from a weekly average of two deaths per week to an average of five deaths per week, a total of 16 killings within a three-week period.

“During lockdown, the Metropolitan police have arrested an average of 100 people a day for domestic abuse-related offences and have received a 30% rise in domestic abuse calls.”

Pragna Patel, the director of Southall Black Sisters, added: “We have yet to see a proper central government co-ordinated crisis response to domestic and sexual abuse. The current situation is leading to inaction or arbitrary local authority responses, especially when migrant women who have no recourse to public funds are involved. The current situation is simply not acceptable. Local refuges are reporting full capacity or not taking any referrals if women cannot claim benefits.”

A government spokesperson said: “Our [domestic abuse] bill will better protect victims, making sure they have the support they need whilst more offenders are brought to justice. We have committed to ensuring the law is clear that this [rough sex] ‘defence’ is unacceptable and are looking at ways to achieve this.”

The government has pointed out that those who deliberately cause harm or injury during sex can already be convicted under existing laws, such as causing grievious bodily harm or actual bodily harm, even if the victim consented.