Tougher sentences for ‘rough sex’ killers welcomed by CWJ

The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) says the introduction of tougher sentences for so-called ‘rough sex’ manslaughter closes a loophole that “failed to recognise the gravity of extremely dangerous sexual practices”.

Feb 15, 2024
By Paul Jacques

The Government has brought in a new statutory aggravating factor for offenders who cause death through abusive, degrading or dangerous sexual behaviour , which it says means killers are “handed down tougher sentences than ever before”.

The measure, announced on Wednesday (February 14), builds on action taken in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 to clarify in law that there is no such thing as the ‘rough sex defence’.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk KC said: “This new aggravating factor sends a clear message that killers who threaten the safety of women can expect to feel the full force of the law.”

The CWJ welcomed the tougher sentences for ‘rough sex’ killers, saying it will “close a sexist loophole in sentencing that has failed to recognise the gravity of extremely dangerous sexual practices which can never be freely consented to”.

Fiona Mackenzie, founder of the ‘We Can’t Consent to This campaign’, said: “This is an important step in ensuring that men who kill women in sexually motivated violence do not get away with a lighter sentence.

“This change should ensure that any future perpetrators of violence of this sort are properly punished, and send a clear message that this violence against women is unacceptable in our society.”

In November 2021, the CWJ, together with ‘We Can’t Consent To This’, put forward evidence at the Court of Appeal hearing considering the desultory sentence of four years eight months handed down to Sam Pybus, who killed Sophie Moss by strangulation claiming she enjoyed it.

“The Court of Appeal declined to accept our evidence, or increase the sentence, holding that it fell squarely within the range of sentencing for this type of manslaughter offence,” said the CWJ.

Other recent sentences handed down to men who have caused the death of women through highly dangerous and degrading sexual practices include:

  • In 2018, John Broadhurst was sentenced to three years and eight months for the manslaughter of Natalie Connolly. She died from a haemorrhage after he inserted a bottle of carpet cleaner inside her. She was found to have 78 bruises and a fracture above her eye;
  • In 2018, Jason Gaskell was sentenced to six years for killing Laura Huteson by slitting her throat claiming the knife was used during sex as part of a sado-masochistic game; and
  • In 2021, Martin Coulton was sentenced to six years imprisonment for killing his partner through asphyxiation after he gagged her and tied her hands behind her back.

Harriet Wistrich, solicitor and director of the CWJ, said: “Cases of so called ‘rough sex gone wrong’ are highly gendered offences and the sentencing disparities we have seen fail to recognise the gravity of such killings.

“We hope this reform to homicide along with others under consideration will mark the start of an adjustment to the law so that male violence towards women is properly reflected in sentencing.”

However, Danielle Reece-Greenhalgh, partner at law firm Corker Binning, said the announcement was “sadly yet another example of soundbite over substance”.

She said: “It’s an entirely unnecessary provision designed to create the appearance of a government cracking down on violence against women, whilst failing to tackle the underlying systemic issues facing victims in the criminal justice system.

“In reality, judges already routinely increase sentences (or the “minimum term” in murder cases) where sexual motivation or violence played a part.

“In determining the minimum term for mandatory life sentences for murder, Schedule 21 of the Sentencing Act 2020 already stipulates that ‘sexual or sadistic conduct’ will ordinarily render the seriousness of an offence ‘exceptionally high’ and potentially warrant a whole life order or a starting point of 30 years.

“In cases of manslaughter, aggravating factors already include ‘history of violence or abuse towards victim’ and ‘significant mental and physical suffering caused to the deceased’. This new proposed aggravating factor will merely spell out what is already known and enacted in sentencing practice.”

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