Research project on rough sex with Hannah Bows and Jonathan Herring

Hannah Bows and Jonathan Herring have been working on a series of projects concerning rough sex. The project was provoked by a series of cases in which men had killed their partners and then claimed the killing occurred during “rough sex” which went wrong. They wrote an article in the Journal of Criminal Law, Getting Away With Murder? A Review of the ‘Rough Sex Defence’, which sets out how this somewhat implausible defence found success within quite a number of criminal trials. Hannah and Jonathan then co-edited a special issue of the Child and Family Law Quarterly, 2021, issue 4.

This included articles offering a comparative perspective, including one from Suzanne Zaccour looking at the Canadian perspective, and a more theoretical perspective. In their introduction to the special issue they write:

The articles in this special issue have taken the theme of ‘rough sex’ as a means of exploring the nature of violence against women and the role of the law in responding to it. It is now many decades since it has been accepted that domestic abuse is a serious social problem and an interference with women’s human rights. Yet we seem still so far from finding an effective response. Indeed, if we are still in the position where killings in the course of a controlling relationship can be determined by a court to be consensual acts of sex, we are a very, very long way off finding a proper response to the issue.

They are about to submit the chapters for an edited collection ‘Rough Sex’ and the Criminal Law to be published by Emerald Publishing, due in late 2022. In the draft introduction Hannah and Jonathan write:

it has long been a claim of more radical feminists that women are presented in patriarchy as enjoying rape and sexual violence. Andrea Dworkin writes “We have a double standard, which is to say, a man can show how much he cares by being violent – see, he's jealous, he cares – a woman shows how much she cares by how much she's willing to be hurt; by how much she will take; how much she will endure." The irony is, as Dworkin well recognised, that the social norms mean that the assumption that women enjoy violent sex are so strong that it is enormously difficult for women to make it clear they do not want to be hurt. Hence we see multiple routes by which women are responsible if “rough sex” goes wrong. The woman who resists is labelled “vanilla” and a boring sexual partner; a woman who appears reluctant to engage in “rough sex” is labelled as sending conflicting and confusing messages; while the woman who consents, was such a good sexual partner the man was overcome with passion and did not notice he was killing his partner. The woman who dresses provocatively is desperate for sex with any man; but the woman who dresses modestly will sending the message she is “wild in bed”. These clichéd rape myths are all reinforced and re-enacted in extensively viewed pornography.