06:42, November 10 106 0 theguardian.com

2020-11-10 06:42:04
Rough sex excuse in women's deaths is variation of 'crime of passion' – study

Men who kill women are increasingly using the “sex game gone wrong” excuse as a contemporary variation on the traditional crime of passion defence, research has found.

In one of the first academic studies into the issue, Prof Elizabeth Yardley, a criminologist at Birmingham City University, found that the normalisation of bondage, domination and sado-masochism (BDSM) across various media – including novels like Fifty Shades Of Grey and pornography – had generated a “culturally approved script” for men who kill women.

She said that the sex game gone wrong defence was a new variation on the crime of passion defence. Men accused of killing women have previously used the defence that they committed “a crime of passion” – used to illustrate the legal defence of provocation – to argue they should be tried for the lesser crime of manslaughter.

At least 18 women have died of strangulation during sex in the last five years with a tenfold increase in rough sex claims in court between 1996 and 2016. Data gathered by the campaign group We Can’t Consent To This, and shared with Yardley for her research, found at least 60 cases of UK females killed by males since 1972 until the present day where the man claimed the death happened during a sex game gone wrong.

Two of the high profile victims of this form of killing were Natalie Connolly who was killed by her boyfriend John Broadhurst in 2016 after he caused her 40 separate injuries. He said her death was due to a sex game wrong. Grace Millane was murdered by strangulation in Aukland, New Zealand by a man she met on the dating app Tinder.

Yardley identified that there was an over-representation of victims in younger age groups – 16-34. She also found that many perpetrators had previous convictions for violence.

She concluded that the normalisation of BDSM “has enabled abusers to justify and excuse fatal violence against women using formal sex equality and women’s liberation against them”.

The domestic abuse bill, which it is hoped will become law before the end of the year, includes an amendment invalidating the courtroom defence of consent where a victim suffers serious harm or is killed.

Concerns have been expressed about non-fatal strangulation as well as fatal. We Can’t Consent To This has called for a new offence of non-fatal strangulation to be introduced, arguing that current legislation is not well suited to prosecuting this offence. Alleged perpetrators are currently charged with the lesser offence of common assault or not prosecuted at all.

Research from Lucy Snow at London Metropolitan University in partnership with We Can’t Consent To This, interviewed 82 women about their experience of violence during sex. Of those interviewed 45 had experienced non-consensual strangulation, choking or pressure on the neck from a partner or ex-partner. A total of 32 had experienced it from someone they were dating.

Fiona Mackenzie, founder of We Can’t Consent To This, said: “Strangulation of women is now culturally normalised as an expected sex act through news and magazines, through social media like Tumblr, Instagram and now Tiktok, platforms with a large market with children.”

The Centre for Women’s Justice is backing calls for a new offence of non-fatal strangulation to be created and included in the domestic abuse bill. Harriet Wistrich, a solicitor who is founder and director of the centre, said: “Non-fatal strangulation is frequently used as a tool to exert power and control. It is a form of intimate terrorism.”

Dr Helen Bichard of North Wales Brain Injury Service and The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust, warned that strangulation could lead to serious injury such as brain damage or stroke.

“I am extremely concerned by the cultural normalisation of strangulation,” she said. “We all protested when George Floyd was killed by the same method of carotid restraint; why are we passively allowing young women to risk his fate? The law must send a strong signal that this is simply unacceptable.”