Harriet Harman says Fifty Shades of Grey provided ‘grisly opportunity for men to twist women’s empowerment’

Labour MP links novel – about a young woman introduced to BDSM by a powerful older man – to ‘rough sex’ defence

Ellie Harrison
Wednesday 22 July 2020 15:41
Fifty Shades Of Grey - Teaser 2 (Universal Pictures) HD (2)

The 2011 erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey provided men with a “grisly opportunity” to use the “rough sex” defence in court, according to Labour MP Harriet Harman.

The so-called “rough sex” defence has increasingly been used in UK courts in cases of sexual violence – that either end in murder or serious harm – to explain why the violence occurred.

On 17 June, the government announced a change in the law to ban this defence as part of an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill.

Harman, who supported the amendment, appeared on ITV’s Loose Women on Wednesday (22 July) to discuss the reasoning behind it.

On why the “rough sex” defence is often referred to as the “Fifty Shades defence”, she said: “With the women’s liberation movement and women wanting to own their own sexuality and to define themselves as sexual beings, and then of course that was encapsulated by the Fifty Shades book, the idea became normalised that some women want pain inflicted on them in sex.

“This provided a grisly opportunity for men to twist women’s empowerment of their own sexuality and say, ‘Yes of course I inflicted those injuries because she wanted rough sex.’”

She added: “And, in that situation it is impossible for the woman, or indeed anybody else, to challenge it. It’s just absolutely any man, who killed any woman, even if it was a perfect stranger, could say, ‘Yes we hooked up and she wanted rough sex.’”

Fifty Shades of Grey was written by EL James and adapted into a film in 2015 starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. It follows a college senior who has a sexual relationship with a billionaire businessman obsessed with BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism).

The Independent has contacted the publisher of Fifty Shades of Grey for comment.

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