Editorials

How the ‘Rough Sex’ Defence Fails Women

1 December 2021

By Michaela Makusha

Sophie Moss was killed during sexual intercourse with her partner, Sam Prybus, in February. He told the police and the court that she had asked him to strangle her during sex.

The sentencing judge then said because Prybus seemed “remorseful”, he was charged with manslaughter, and will only serve four years and eight months in prison. All because he claimed Sophie’s death was the result of a sex game that had gone wrong.

This defence in trials isn’t new – it is what is known as the ‘rough sex defence’. It’s where mainly men who kill their female sexual partners during intercourse call it an accident.

The advocacy group We Can’t Consent to This found that 60 police suspects or defendants in the UK have used this defence, with 45% of them having their charges or sentences reduced, acquitted, or the case dropped.

Read more: The Police’s Problem with Violence Against Women

It’s no wonder so many men have used this as their defence – it’s essentially a ‘get out of jail quicker’ card, ingraining itself within a system that already fails survivors of sexual assault. Normalising this defence sends a signal that women can somehow consent to sexual violence.

Moreover, it continues protecting men who have histories of being violent towards women. In 2018, Laura Huteson was killed by a man who had strangled a woman just 11 days before.

He received only six years for manslaughter as the court accepted that he hadn’t meant to kill her, despite using a knife, which he claimed was part of their sex.

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This is less ‘he said, she said’, and more ‘he says, so that’s what happened’.

This defence posthumously blames the victim. It puts the onus on the victim, as opposed to their partner, who surely should be taking responsibility for their actions.

Moreover, it humiliates women who have to have their entire sexual history called into question, aired in open court for the world to judge, taking the dignity they had left. And they can’t defend themselves in court.

Harriet Harman MP, who has been vocally campaigning against the defence said: “If it is his hands around her throat that stopped her breathing, it is him that has killed her. You shouldn’t be allowed to argue that somebody has invited you to kill them.”

Recommended Reading: Sarah Everard and the Met Police Failure

Despite it being in law as of 2020, there needs to be wider judicial and legal recognition that this defence is nothing more than misogynistic victim-blaming, which allows a man to get off the hook for murder.

Women already have to go through a lot whilst alive to get justice – we should at least get to have dignity in death.

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