The family of Grace Millane, the British backpacker who was murdered by a man she went on a date with in Auckland, New Zealand in December 2018, have responded to the news that the 'rough sex defence' is set to be banned.
The defence is currently allowed to be used by a defendant to justify the death of a woman during sex. If accepted by the court, it can result in a minimised charge (and therefore sentence) for perpetrators. According to campaign group We Can't Consent To This, the defence has been used to defend perpetrators accused of murder in court more than 60 times in the UK since 1972. In 45% of these cases, it resulted in a "lesser charge of manslaughter, a lighter sentence or the death not being investigated as a crime at all".
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The defence came into play in Grace Millane's murder trial (albeit not a UK court), when the as-yet-unnamed man who killed her insisted that Grace died accidentally, as a result of choking during consensual sex.
His lawyers presented evidence in court to suggest the young woman had previously experimented in asphyxiation during sex. While the jury ultimately found him guilty of murder - not accepting his attempt at the 'sex game gone wrong' defence - it was no doubt extremely distressing for Grace's family to see her sexual history manipulated in such a way to try to excuse murder.
Earlier this week, at the Commons' Public Bill Committee debating the upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, justice minister Alex Chalk described the defence as "unconscionable", and reassured MPs that it would be banned as part of the new legislation.
"It is unconscionable for defendants to suggest that the death of a woman is justified, excusable or legally defensible because that woman had engaged in violent and harmful sexual activity which resulted in her death, simply because she consented," he said.
In response to the news, a charitable organisation that has been set up by Grace Millane's family in her name - Love Grace x, which helps domestic abuse victims by providing handbags filled with toiletries to refuges around the world - posted on Facebook that it was "fantastic news to wake up to".
Speaking to the BBC, Grace's cousin Hannah O'Callaghan spoke about the upcoming change in law: "It won't change things for us but hopefully it will stop any other family having to go through this.
"Men must not be allowed to use this defence as an excuse to kill women, knowing they can get a lesser sentence. Families won't have to sit and listen to only one side of the story while the victim is re-victimised and does not get the chance to tell their side."
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