An estimated 60 women in the UK have been killed by men who claimed a ‘sex game’ went wrong. In the last five years, nine men have used this defence successfully to receive lesser charges. As the latest Domestic Abuse Bill makes its way through parliament, this film examines the perceived rise of ‘rough sex’ as a successful defence in court and the relationship of the defence to the mainstreaming of BDSM in the media.
This film aims to raise awareness of the ‘consent’ defence that is becoming more prevalent in an age of online dating and increased abusive pornography, that remains unchallenged by latent taboos and a distinct lack of legal protection. Caitlin Kelly examines the issues around the commercialisation and misappropriation of BDSM which has given rise to a violent non-consensual culture far removed from the safe practices advocated for by the BDSM community. Interviewing campaigners, victims and practitioners, Caitlin explores why the defence is making its way to the courts and why it isn’t being stopped in its tracks much earlier. Creating an honest, non-judgmental space for both members of the BDSM community and victims to discuss the issue (something which is not often afforded to these groups by the current media and cultural landscape) this film spotlights how this ‘repurposing’ of the ‘she asked for it’ argument is impacting the next generation.
The experiences that feature in this film are just an insight into a much deeper issue. The rise of the rough sex defence is just one element of the normalisation of violence against women. As domestic abuse affects 1 in 4 women, this film calls for a re-examination of attitudes and approaches towards women, sex and violence.
Our film was the first documentary to address the rough sex defence in its entirety. The topic, in its recent newsworthy context of the Domestic Abuse Bill has never been covered by a broadcaster in documentary form. When we filmed Fiona Mackenzie, the lead campaigner, this was her first on-camera interview. The case is the same for MP Mark Garnier. Since the film, the Domestic Abuse Bill has been amended to include provisions against the rough sex defence, directly due to the work of those that feature in our film. Attaching their petition to our film on YouTube contributed to this, gave their cause a platform and added to the wider awareness-raising campaign. The film sought to foster a wider discussion around the cultural normalisation of violence against women in sex that is distinctly non-consensual and abusive yet has pervaded the media our generation grew up with. There has been an overwhelming response from newcomers to the issue as well as victims, thanking us for our contribution to a proactive and honest discussion. The film has since gone on to win Best Documentary at HER Film Festival and Best TV Feature at the BJTC journalism awards.