By Maya Oppenheim
Strangulation during sex can increase the risk of stroke and brain injuries even if the person does not lose consciousness, warn scientists as MPs debate the troubling practice.
Campaigners have called for the government to include the new offence of “non-fatal strangulation” in the domestic abuse bill, which is being considered by MPs on Thursday, in a bid to tackle the rising number of killers claiming women died during “rough sex”.
A distressing new report, which is the first of its kind, found it is common for strangulation to leave no visible indications of injury but victims can go on to suffer symptoms days or even weeks after the incident took place.
Researchers at Bangor University and doctors at North Wales Brain Injury Service discovered physical repercussions of strangulation can include cardiac arrest, stroke, miscarriage, incontinence, speech disorders, seizures, paralysis, and other forms of long-term brain injury.
“We already knew the potential injury from victims’ reports,” warns the study. “But, for the first time, this synthesises the medical evidence in its terrifying and convincing entirety.”
Increasing numbers of women are being seriously injured and killed in so-called “sex games gone wrong”. In 1996, two women per year were killed or injured during what the defendants referred to as “consensual rough sex” but this figure had soared to 20 women by 2016, which is a tenfold rise.
Researchers said strangulation is thought to be the second most common cause of stroke in women who are younger than 40.
The study found more than 50 per cent of women subject to routine domestic abuse have suffered strangulation and up to 20 per cent of women who have experienced sexual assault have been strangled. While if a woman has been strangled, the chance of her consequently being murdered surges eightfold.
Strangulation was found to be a predominantly gendered crime — with researchers who examined 300 forensic records in San Diego finding 298 incidents involved a man strangling a woman.
The study found victims can lose consciousness in as short a space of time as four seconds of arterial pressure — explaining losing consciousness demonstrates the person has suffered at the very least a mild brain injury.
Consciousness was lost in between 17 per cent and 38 per cent of strangulation episodes researchers studied.
Louise Perry, a spokesperson for We Can’t Consent To This, a campaign group that has done extensive research into the “rough sex” defence, told The Independent: “Non-fatal strangulation is horribly under-prosecuted. It is so often a feature of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
“The dangers of strangulation are often ignored. But it is terrifying. It causes terrifying psychological and physical harm. It is different from other forms of violence as it often doesn’t leave visible signs. We absolutely support the amendments that are being put forward by the Centre for Women’s Justice to make non-fatal strangulation a separate offence.”
Although guidelines drawn up by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on non-fatal strangulation say it should be tried as a serious assault, this often is not the case. In 45 per cent of cases where a man kills a woman during sex and alleges she gave her consent, the rough sex defence succeeds, which leads to the killing being prosecuted under manslaughter or not even regarded as a crime.
The Centre for Women’s Justice, a legal charity that tackles violence against women, has put forward an amendment to the landmark domestic abuse bill being considered by MPs on Thursday to include the new offence of “non-fatal strangulation”.
It comes a day after We Can’t Consent to This revealed 67 victims were made to go to court during the past decade to deny they gave their consent to being strangled, assaulted or subjected to violence.
Campaigners warned “perpetrators of shocking violence all too often” manage to successfully use the “rough sex” defence.
The organisation said: “Court cases involved women whose attackers have claimed they consented to acts including waterboarding, wounding, electrocution, strangulation and asphyxiation, slapping, beating, punching and kicking, and in one case, a shotgun fired intimately at a woman. In every one of these cases, the victim insisted that she did not consent to the violence.”
Boris Johnson pledged to end the “rough sex defence” at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday after fellow Conservative MP Laura Farris said: “When men who kill their partners in appalling acts of sexual violence establish in court that ‘she asked for it’ and avoid a murder conviction, does [he] agree that the time is now to end the rough sex defence?”
Mr Johnson replied: “She raises an incredibly important point and we do — we are committed to ensuring that the law is made clear on this point and that defence is inexcusable.”