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Getting away with murder? a review of the ‘Rough Sex Defence’.

Bows, Hannah and Herring, Jonathan (2020) 'Getting away with murder? a review of the ‘Rough Sex Defence’.', Journal of criminal law., 84 (6). pp. 525-538.


Several high-profile murders of women killed during alleged consensual sex ‘gone wrong’ have led to widespread calls for reform to prevent the use of what has been termed the ‘rough sex defence’. Concerns about the use of this ‘defence’ are located within broader concerns about the high rates of domestic abuse and fatal violence against women. Lobbyists, campaign groups and members of parliament have drawn attention to the increase in this ‘defence’ featuring in criminal cases in England and Wales and have consequently proposed two amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill (2020), namely a statutory prohibition of consent as a defence to actual bodily or more serious harm, including death, and introducing additional scrutiny in charging decisions by requiring the Director of Public Prosecutions to authorise charges of manslaughter (rather than murder) in cases involving rough sex/sadomasochism (SM). This article provides a critical analysis of the use of rough sex/SM in female homicide cases and proposed legal reforms and concludes that the proposed reforms would fail to capture many of the ‘rough sex’ cases that have come before the courts in recent years and may not have the intended effect. We consider potential alternative approaches.

Item Type:Article
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Full text:(VoR) Version of Record
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Publisher statement:This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:09 July 2020
Date of first online publication:29 June 2020
Date first made open access:09 July 2020

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