" /> Grace Millane and the rise of the '50 Shades' defense in murder trials
Select Page

British backpacker Grace Millane was strangled to death, crammed into a suitcase and buried in a New Zealand woodland after a Tinder date in December 2018.

On Thursday her killer, a 28-year-old man, was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum 17-year non-parole period.

The Courts of New Zealand said in a statement: “Overall, the circumstances of the murder showed a high-level of callousness, including the intimate nature of the murder itself.”

In his November 2019 trial, the prosecution argued that the man — whose name cannot be released due to a suppression order — “eroticized” Millane’s death because of a “morbid sexual interest,” and the court heard how he had taken “trophy” photos of her body and watched violent pornography while her body lay in the room.

The key pillar of the man’s defense was that Millane, 21, enjoyed “rough sex,” and that her death was an accident that came about as a result of consensual choking. As a consequence, media coverage of the trial was filled with details about Millane’s personal life and alleged sexual preferences, even as the accused remained anonymous.

Claims of a “sex game gone wrong” are not new. Some politicians and media outlets have even begun to refer to them as the “50 Shades” defense, after the popular “50 Shades of Grey” books and movies, which recount a woman’s relationship with a man who introduces her to BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism) sexual practices.

A rise in claims

At least 60 UK women have been killed in episodes of so-called “consensual” sexual violence since 1972, with at least 18 women dying in the last five years, according to the advocacy group We Can’t Consent To This.

In 45% of those killings, the claim that a woman’s injuries were sustained during a sex game “gone wrong” resulted in a lesser charge, a lighter sentence, an acquittal, or the death not being investigated, the group said.

Susan Edwards, a barrister, and professor of law at the University of Buckingham told CNN that 30 or 40 years ago, it was unlikely that a defendant would claim that the victim consented to sexual violence. Read more

Also read  Son of cop, found shot dead in his Charles Co. driveway, remembered as Eagle Scout, runner