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‘Rough sex’ defence set to be banned after MPs back bid to change ‘chilling’ law

The legislation clamping down on domestic abuse will head back to the Lords for further scrutiny. (PA)

4 min read

MPs have backed legislation that will outlaw the “chilling“ use of “rough sex” that campaigners say has allowed killers to escape punishment.

The Domestic Abuse Bill explicitly rules out “consent for sexual gratification” as a defence in court proceedings for causing serious harm.

The legislation, which also ramps up the obligations on councils to protect victims of domestic abuse, was amended after a long-running campaign against the use of “sex games gone wrong” as a defence.

It has now passed its final Commons hurdle and will head to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the Government had delivered on its commitment “to make the law crystal clear in relation to the so-called rough sex defence”.

“We now have it enshrined in statute that no one can consent to serious harm, or indeed their own death, for the purposes of sexual gratification,” he said.

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins said: “One of the most chilling and anguished developments in recent times has been the increased use of the so-called rough sex defence.”

And she paid tribute to Labour MP Harriet Harman and Conservative Mark Garnier for their “unrelenting” work to “secure justice for victims about whom the most difficult and violent claims can be made by defendants in the course of a criminal trial”.

Tory MP Laura Trott said she hoped the new law would allow the Crown Prosecution Service to consider looking again at cases that had been “dropped due to the rough sex defence”.

“I cannot imagine how hard it is for someone to go through the process of going to the police and reporting the case, only to be told that because of rough sex their experience is not valid,” she said.

“We must make sure that never happens again for any victim and that the cases of people who have gone through it can be addressed.”

And shadow domestic violence minister Jess Phillips said: “This place can seem completely otherworldly. The words written in the Bill will seem in many cases completely otherworldly to the vast majority of the people I have supported in my life as victims of domestic abuse. 

“But the message it sends is that we can hear them, and that is a message we should send loud and clear from this place.”


The move to outlaw the “rough sex” defence comes after campaign group We Can’t Consent To This revealed that more than 60 victims had been made to go to court during the past decade to deny that they had given consent to acts including strangulation, assault and violence.

As well as cracking down on the defence, the Domestic Abuse Bill, which was introduced in “enhanced” form earlier this year after a protracted parliamentary journey, creates a new statutory definition of domestic abuse that takes into account emotional, economic and coercive abuse as well as physical violence.  

It sets up a new Domestic Abuse Commissioner to hold ministers’ and authorities’ feet to the fire on the support for victims of abuse, and bans perpetrators from cross-examining their victims in person in family courts in England and Wales.

However, some MPs have argued that the bill fails to do enough to protect vulnerable migrant women. 

The Commons rejected a new clause backed by Labour that would have provided extra support for people who are deemed to have ‘No Recourse To Public Funds’ because of their immigration status.

Ms Phillips argued that this ban on migrants receiving many forms of state support — which Labour wanted to lift for one year for victims of abuse under a pilot scheme — is depriving shelters of the funds they need to support survivors and deterring women from seeking help.

But Ms Atkins, the Home Office minister, said her department was “keen to focus on support rather than to follow the urgings of others that we deal with immigration status”.

She added: “We want to help these victims to access help first and foremost as victims.”

Instead, the Government has announced a £1.5 million fund to support safe accommodation for migrant women, with Ms Atkins saying the scheme would launch as “quickly as possible” and “determine how we ensure that victims can obtain immediate access to support, and that any future strategy meets the immediate needs of victims and is fit for purpose”.

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