The ‘Sex Gone Wrong’ Defence Is Just A Way For Men To Try And Get Away With Murder
On November 22, 2019, a 27-year-old man was found guilty of the murder of Grace Millane, a British backpacker who went missing while travelling in New Zealand in 2018.
Grace, who went on a date with Kempson the day before her 22nd birthday on December 1, died when he strangled her in his hotel room. He then stuffed her body into a suitcase and buried her in woodland.
A jury at Auckland High Court took just five hours to unanimously agree that Kempson was guilty of murder last year – rejecting his claims that Grace had died accidentally during ‘rough sex’.
Today, more than one year later, that man can be named as Jesse Kempson after a court order banning his identification was lifted.
The order enables suspects in New Zealand to request that a court suppress their name, with the aim of protecting defendants who are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
This meant that, throughout the trial, the public knew nothing about Grace’s killer but everything about what the defence thought was relevant to the case – i.e. her sexual preferences.
Grace’s sexual history was laid bare for all to see, and for her distraught parents to hear, while the man responsible for taking her life had everything about his identity protected.
Throughout the two-and-a-half week trial, Grace’s family were made to listen to the defence’s persistent claims about their daughter’s sexual preferences while her killer sat just metres away from them.
Her grieving parents, David and Gillian, had to listen to their daughter being described as ‘naive and trusting’ by a man she had briefly spoken to online – a stranger – while Grace’s ex-boyfriends were called upon to discuss their sex lives in detail.
Regardless of what these were though, because ultimately they have no relevance to the case whatsoever, the facts are as follows: after strangling Grace, Kempson searched for porn; took ‘intimate’ pictures of her body; searched online for how to dispose of a body; and went on another Tinder date while Grace lay dead in his room.
He later bought a second suitcase, cleaning products, and a shovel in a bid to cover his tracks, jurors heard. The prosecution said the defendant ‘wasn’t distressed or concerned by her death’ and set about making plans to dispose of Grace’s body, the BBC reported.
He then put her body into a suitcase and buried her in the Waitakere Ranges, near Auckland, doing everything in his power to hide what he had done in the days that followed. He repeatedly lied to police and others involved in the case, with Judge Simon Moore telling the jury there was substantial evidence of his lies.
Yet despite all of this, headlines surrounding the trial focused on the defence’s claims of ‘rough sex gone wrong’ and on Grace’s personal sexual preferences – as though they were the reason she was killed, and not the man who strangled her.
As soon as the circumstances surrounding Grace’s death became public knowledge, blame was attributed to her. ‘She shouldn’t have been travelling alone’, ‘she shouldn’t have gone on a Tinder date’, ‘she shouldn’t have gone back to his hotel’.
This only continued throughout the trial.
Although the defence emphasised at the outset that Grace should be remembered as a ‘loving, bright, intelligent woman’ – with Ron Mansfield stating, as per The Guardian, ‘that should be her reputation and her memory at the start of this trial and at the conclusion of it’ – their case still constructed a narrative which placed her front and centre, suggesting she was somehow to blame.
Let me make one thing clear: Grace was not to blame for what happened to her that night. Her actions didn’t kill her. Going travelling by herself didn’t kill her. Going on a Tinder date didn’t kill her. Enjoying sex didn’t kill her.
Yet these are the things which formed such a focal point of the trial. These are the things which were emphasised throughout, rather than the actions of Kempson. These are the things the defence presented as reasons for Grace’s death, instead of focusing blame on the man who strangled her.
Why? Because it’s a tried and tested way for men to get away with murder. It’s a way to place blame on the victim rather than the perpetrator, because the person in question has no way to defend themselves. And it needs to stop.
At least 59 women from the UK have been killed by men who use the ‘sex gone wrong’ defence in recent years, according to the campaigning organisation We Can’t Consent To This. The organisation found zero examples of women killing or injuring a man using the same defence. Zero.
In the last five years alone, the defence has been used successfully in nine of the 18 cases in the UK that went to trial, with the man either being found not guilty or receiving a lesser manslaughter conviction instead of murder.
In one of the most notorious cases, a millionaire property developer called John Broadhurst was sentenced last year to just three years and eight months in prison for the manslaughter of his girlfriend, 26-year-old Natalie Connolly.
Natalie was found in a pool of her own blood at the bottom of the stairs at the couple’s home and had suffered 40 separate injuries, including serious internal trauma, a fractured eye socket and facial wounds – all of which Broadhurst claimed were a result of ‘rough sex’.
In another case, 16-year-old Hannah Pearson was strangled to death by James Morton, 24, who waited 20 minutes after he saw Hannah had stopped breathing to phone emergency services. He also smashed her phone because it was ringing.
Despite the judge saying Morton had strangled Hannah ‘without warning or permission’ and saying he enjoyed ‘domination’, the jury cleared him of murder and instead found him guilty of manslaughter.
Another woman, 21-year-old Laura Huteson, was killed in 2018 by a man she’d just met that day. Jason Gaskell, 24, held a knife to Laura’s neck while having sex – he claimed with her consent – and cut through her carotid artery.
He was initially charged with murder but found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to just six years, with the court accepting that Gaskell had not intended to use the knife to kill Laura and was instead engaged in ‘bizarre and violent sadomasochistic sexual activity’.
In each of these cases, it was his word against hers in court – except the woman was noticeably absent in each. Without women’s voices, a vital piece of the puzzle is missing. Yet this doesn’t seem to be taken into account and women’s reputations get dragged through the mud regardless.
Silva Neves, a psychosexual and relationship psychotherapist, told UNILAD this is all part of a ‘sex-shaming movement’ being used to excuse ‘even the most brutal murders’.
He said that the injuries reported in such cases are ‘unheard of in a sexual context’, adding: ‘It is not possible to have accidental death in a sexual practice that involves two people.’
The kind of injuries reported are not sexual injuries. They are brutal injuries involving significant force with a clear intent to kill, not the kind of force that is used as pleasurable play in a sexual context.
Regardless, the defence continues to be used in courts, most recently by Jesse Kempson – only this time he didn’t get away with it and was charged with Grace’s murder. ‘You can’t consent to your own murder,’ crown prosecutor Brian Dickey said at his trial, as per The Guardian.
The prosecutor continued:
This isn’t a little bit of sex gone wrong… because the person doing that must have known that they were hurting her, causing her harm, that might well cause her death, but they were reckless and carried on, and she died.
This was only proven by testimony given by a forensic psychologist, who said it would have taken between five and 10 minutes for Grace to have died. Before that though, she would have first fallen unconscious due to the pressure on her neck.
So don’t tell me this was just ‘rough sex’ or ‘sex gone wrong’. Don’t tell me this was just an ‘accident’ caused by too much alcohol, or by an inexperience with BDSM. This was unequivocally, undeniably, murder.
Just because a woman consents to sex – any type of sex, for that matter – it doesn’t mean she consents to being put in a position of danger. It doesn’t mean she consents to being killed. Because as the prosecution so rightly said, nobody can consent to their own murder.
Our thoughts are with Grace’s family at this difficult time.
Rest in peace, Grace.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.
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