Grace Millane: Campaigners call for new law to combat rising ‘rough sex’ defence

Group says at least 59 women have died in the UK after men claimed they were injured accidentally in ‘rough sex’

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Saturday 23 November 2019 13:37
Man found guilty of murdering British backpacker Grace Millane in New Zealand

Campaigners are calling for the law to be changed to combat the rising number of killers claiming that women died during “rough sex”.

Grace Millane, a 21-year-old British backpacker who was murdered by a man in New Zealand, is the latest case to spark demands for change.

Jesse Kempson, 27, insisted he had choked her consensually and his defence team attempted to use details of Ms Millane’s relationship history to portray her death as an accident.

But he was convicted on Friday, a week after a millionaire who killed his partner in the UK attempted to reduce his prison sentence.

John Broadhurst admitted manslaughter, rather than murder, after claiming Natalie Connolly incurred 40 separate injuries – including serious internal trauma, a fractured eye socket and facial wounds – during “rough sex” and by falling over.

Campaign group We Can’t Consent to This – which was formed following Ms Connolly’s death – has counted 59 women in the UK since 1972, who were killed by men that used the defence.

But 20 of those have come in the past five years, and campaigners fear that both the defence and non-consensual assaults during sex are on the rise.

Founder Fiona Mackenzie told The Independent the group is pushing for additions to the Domestic Abuse Bill, which has been repeatedly delayed since it was introduced in parliament in July.

“It’s horrifying to discover how frequent these injury and murder cases are – every few weeks they come through the court,” she added.

“When the women survive they always say they didn’t consent … but when they’re dead the man gets to tell the story.”

Ms Mackenzie said that violence against women in sex had become “normalised” through pornography and other factors, seeing them slapped, choked and punched.

“There’s a really embedded myth through the whole criminal justice system that women consent to this kind of violence,” she added.

“We are trying to wipe out the non-consensual assault of women in sex and challenge the legal system’s response.”

Proposals would see the Domestic Abuse Bill bring important case law from 1993 formally into the statute.

Natalie Connolly, a 26-year-old mother, died after suffering more than 40 injuries but her partner claimed they were accidental

The case, where a man had inflicted grievous bodily harm on his male lover, saw the House of Lords rule that if the injuries were serious, a defendant cannot claim that the victim consented as a defence.

Campaigners hope that making this distinction law would prevent police and coroners from dismissing the “accidental” deaths of women linked to sex as non-suspicious.

The change could also undermine efforts by defence lawyers to use women’s sexual history to suggest that they consented to the assaults that caused their injury or deaths.

It could cause more cases to be charged as murder – which requires intent – rather than manslaughter, which can be involuntary or negligent.

Harriet Harman, Labour’s former solicitor general, is supporting the campaign for change.

Previously speaking to The Independent about the “rough sex” defence, she said: “This is a very ominous development. We stopped men getting away with murder by blaming their wife’s infidelity and now we’ve got a new version of male justification for homicide.”

She added: “When a woman is dead she can’t speak for herself. Any man charged with killing a current or former partner or prostitute could simply say she wanted it.”

Kempson ​strangled Millaine and shoved her body inside a suitcase before burying her in a forest park

Ms Millane’s death – and criticism of how the media covered defence arguments during her murderer’s trial – has sparked fresh scrutiny of the phenomenon around the world.

Her father, David Millane, said the guilty verdict “will not reduce the pain and suffering we have had to endure”.

“Grace was taken in the most brutal fashion a year ago and our lives have been ripped apart,” he added. “Grace was our sunshine and she will be missed forever.”

She went on a Tinder date with Kempson in central Auckland on 1 December 2018, returning to his flat after drinks.

He strangled her and shoved her body inside a suitcase before burying her in a forested area outside Auckland.

Phone records show he had viewed pornography, taken photos of Ms Millane’s body and searched for “rigor mortis”, “extra large bags”, “carpet cleaner”, “hottest fire” and “Waitakere Ranges” – the young woman’s gravesite.

A former teammate of Kempson, who played amateur softball, told MailOnline: “He was creepy towards girls. His life revolved around girls, talking to girls.

“He was always trying to get with younger girls ... he was very quiet around the boys.”

Kempson was remanded into custody until his sentencing, when he faces life in prison with a minimum of 10 years without parole.

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