With no majority and with Brexit hanging over parliament, the Government’s legislative agenda has lacked both volume and substance.
An exception to this has been the Domestic Abuse Bill, which, creates important new powers for the courts to protect victims of domestic abuse, and imposes for the first time a duty on councils to provide support and protection to victims.
This is another giant step away from the attitude that what happened between a man and his wife was a private issue and if he was violent it was probably because she brought it on herself.
But at the same time as we’ve been making progress, another version of “she was asking for it” has reared its ugly head. Men are now getting away with murder, literally, by using the “rough sex” defence.
What an irony that the narrative of women’s sexual empowerment is being used by men who inflict fatal injuries.
Though he might admit he caused injuries which led to her death, he claims it was not his fault as it was part of a “sex game gone wrong”. She, of course, is not there to say otherwise. So, he gets into the witness box and gives lurid, unchallengeable accounts of her addiction to violent sex and explains that the bruises that cover her body were what she wanted. The grieving relatives see him charged not with murder but only manslaughter. And they not only have to listen to him traducing her reputation in court, they have to see his description of her sexual proclivities splashed all over social media and in the newspapers. She’s dead so he gets to tell the story of how he was only doing what she wanted.
This is truly the “50 shades of grey” defence.
Natalie Connolly died six months after starting a relationship with John Broadhurst. He regaled the court with lurid details of the violence, which he alleged she consented to. When her body was found at the bottom of the stairs it was not only internal injuries – too awful to describe here – but old bruising on her breasts and buttocks, which he says he inflicted at her request. Earlier this year, he was sentenced to only three years and eight months for her killing.
This is truly the “50 shades of grey” defence. Men are using the narrative of women’s sexual enjoyment of being injured by violence to escape murder charges and face only manslaughter charges. Instead of life imprisonment they are out of prison in just a few years. Her grieving family are never free from their loss or from the stain on her character. What an irony that the narrative of women’s sexual empowerment is being used by men who inflict fatal injuries.
We need to change the law and the Domestic Abuse Bill gives us that opportunity. There is already caselaw on this (i.e. what the top court has ruled rather than what is in statute). In the 1993 case of R v Brown, the House of Lords (which preceded the Supreme Court) ruled that if the injuries were serious, a defendant cannot claim as a defence that the victim consented. That was a case where a man had inflicted GBH on his gay lover. But we need that in statute so that it is under the noses of the Crown Prosecution Service and judges.
For years, men got away with murder claiming that “she asked for it”. Cynically known amongst barristers as the “nagging and shagging defence” this excuse for violent men was shut down only as recently as 2009. We now have the modern version of “she was asking for it”. It’s time we shut that down too and we can by adding it to the Domestic Abuse Bill.