Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Lucy Snow (DAB35)

Submission to Domestic Abuse Bill Committee in support of Amendments N4 – N11, on non-fatal strangulation and ‘rough sex’ defences.

1. Summary

1.1. This evidence is submitted to the Committee in support of amendments N4-N11 to the Domestic Abuse Bill. It details my ongoing research on women’s experiences of non-fatal, non-consensual violence in sex, routinely minimised and excused as ‘rough sex’ the woman consented to. [1] This submission summarises my findings so far in support of amendments N4, N5, N8, N9 and N10. Surveying women, I found that: non-consensual violence in sex happens multiple times across women’s lives, and from multiple perpetrators; partner or ex-partner was the most common perpetrator type (66/82 respondents); 61 women detailed further abuse from the same partner or ex, demonstrating how non-consensual ‘rough sex’ forms part of a pattern of abuse and control, and any ‘consent’ must be seen in this context; and strangulation/choking is one of the most common forms of non-consensual violence used in sex, regardless of the perpetrator.

2. Background

2.1. My name is Lucy Snow. This research is part of my Master’s degree at London Metropolitan University’s Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU). It comprises a survey on women’s experiences and in-depth interviews with women. The research is supervised by Professor Liz Kelly and facilitated by We Can’t Consent To This, of which I am a member. I have worked in the Violence Against Women and Girls sector since 2016.

3. N4 – ‘No defence for consent to death’; N5 – ‘No defence for consent to injury’; N10 – Prohibition of reference to sexual history of the deceased in domestic homicide trials.

3.1. We Can’t Consent To This (which submitted its own evidence) has documented the killings and assaults of women where the men accused claim consensual rough sex. In more than half of the killings there was a known history of domestic abuse against the woman from the man. And in all of the non-fatal assaults, where the woman is able to say so, she says she did not consent to the violence (see Appendix I).

3.2. Removing the ‘consent’ defence is critical because there is a widespread issue with the violent assault of women in sex. [2] My research highlights that being subjected non-consensual violence in sex is very often in the context of a wider pattern of control and abuse. Eighty percent of respondents (66/82) had experienced non-consensual violence in sex from a partner or ex-partner. Sixty-one women detailed further abuse from the same man:

· 46% said he had done it before; 33% said it happened regularly.

· 75% said the same man had been abusive in other ways (for example: controlling, possessive, emotionally abusive, physically abusive).

· 41% said he had raped or sexually assaulted her in ways other than non-consensual violence in sex.  

· 64% said he used sex as a way to control her - for example, by shaming or guilt-tripping her into to doing particular things.

· 28% said he had taken sexual images or videos of her and threatened to share them. [3]  

3.3. The alleged ‘consent’ defence must be seen in this context. As one of my interviewees, who experienced many years of coerced violence in sex form her abusive ex-partner, put it:

‘It made me think how easy it would have been for me to have died and my ex to have said ‘she liked rough sex’ […] I realise now that he was making me say these things so that if ever he was in front of a prosecutor or whatever, that he could honestly, 100% sincerely say, I had asked for – I had even begged – him for it. I didn’t know what I was begging for.’

3.4. As such, these amendments are a crucial addition the Domestic Abuse Bill. However, my research reiterates the findings of We Can’t Consent To This, that non-consensual violence in sex is not only perpetrated by partners or ex-partners:

3.5. Non-consensual violence in sex happens multiple times across women’s lives, and from multiple perpetrators: of 84 women responding to a question about frequency of non-consensual violence in sex, 55% had experienced it 1 – 5 times; 20% had experienced it 5 – 10 times, and 20% had it experienced it more than 10 times. [4]

3.6. Of 82 women responding to a question on perpetrators, 34% had experienced non-consensual violence in sex from someone they had met that day; 10% of respondents had experienced non-consensual violence in sex from someone they had planned to meet for consensual BDSM activities. [5]

3.7. Additional provision is needed to ensure all women – regardless of their relationship with the perpetrator – are meaningfully protected.

4. NC8 – Offence of non-fatal strangulation; NC9 – Offence of non-fatal strangulation in domestic abuse context

4.1. In line with the killings and assaults documented by We Can’t Consent To This, my research finds that strangulation is one of the most common forms of non-consensual violence used in sex, regardless of the perpetrator:

4.2. Forty-five of the women surveyed had experienced non-consensual strangulation, choking or pressure on her neck from a partner or ex-partner; 32 women had experienced it from someone they were dating; 11 experienced it from someone they had met that day; five experienced it from someone she had planned to meet for consensual BDSM activities. [6]

4.3. Strangulation/choking/pressure to the neck was the most common form of abuse when the perpetrator was someone the woman was dating; the second most common form of abuse from partners or ex-partners; and the third most common when the woman had met the perpetrator that day. [7]

4.4. The prevalence of strangulation in my research and in We Can’t Consent To This data is particularly concerning, given the specific dangers of this form of violence (neurological, cognitive, psychological, and behavioural – as set out in Bichard et al, 2020 [8] ) and its status as a predictor of domestic homicide. [9]

Lucy Snow

Appendix I:

We Can’t Consent To This has researched the killings of 60 women, in which the man accused claimed consensual ‘rough sex’ or ‘sex games’ ‘gone wrong’. In 45% of these cases, these claims worked for the accused – sentencing was lighter, charges were lesser, or the deaths weren’t investigated as crimes. In 32 of the cases, the perpetrator was the partner or ex-partner of the woman. In 21 of the cases in which women were killed, documented by We Can’t Consent To This, there was a known history of domestic violence from the man against the woman. We Can’t Consent To This has also documented 115 cases of non-fatal assaults in which consensual ‘rough sex’ was claimed by the suspect – 114 victims were women, all those making ‘rough sex’ claims were men. All of the women, where they can give evidence, say they did not consent to the violence. [10]

June 2020


[1] See We Can’t Consent To This https://wecantconsenttothis.uk/

[2] Thirty-eight percent of UK women under 40 have experienced assault in sex: choking/strangulation, spitting, slapping or gagging. BBC Radio 5/ComRes (November 2019) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-50546184

[3] Snow, L. (2020) Survey on women’s experiences of non-consensual violence in sex (unpublished, in partnership with We Can’t Consent To This)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Snow, L. (2020) Survey on women’s experiences of non-consensual violence in sex (unpublished, in partnership with We Can’t Consent To This)

[7] Ibid.

[8] Bichard, H., et al (2020) The neuropsychological outcomes of non-fatal strangulation in domestic and sexual violence: A systematic review (pre-print here: https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/c6zbv )

[9] Glass, N., et al (2008) Non-fatal strangulation is an important risk factor for homicide of women. The Journal of Emergency Medicine, 35(3), pp.329-335.

[10] We Can’t Consent To This (2020) What can be consented to? Briefing on the use of "rough sex" defences to violence https://wecantconsenttothis.uk/s/WCCTT-briefing-sheet-2020-February.pdf

 

Prepared 11th June 2020