FEMFACTS
17 Apr 2019

It's not a sex game when a woman dies

Sensationalist media reporting following the death of a young woman in Switzerland have focused on the boyfriend’s defence that the death was a result of “sex game gone wrong”. This mix of sex and violence has set the tabloid press on fire.

Guest Mavens
Sian Norris NewsMavens, Europe
It's not a sex game when a woman dies - NewsMavens
Man seen from the back. Pixabay

A German man has been arrested following the death a British woman in a hotel room in Switzerland. The man claims that his girlfriend, Anna Florence Reed, 22, died as a result of a “sex game gone wrong”. His statement has been picked up by multiple UK media outlets including the Sun, the Metro, the Mail, and the Mirror. The story has also been reported by multiple outlets across Europe, all leading with the boyfriend’s “sex game gone wrong” defence.

With the exception of the Mirror, each specific article linked to above uses bikini and glamorous shots to illustrate the victim, who according to a post-mortem died as a result of asphyxiation. In photos featuring the couple, the face of the alleged perpetrator has been blurred.

WHAT’S THE CLAIM

The headlines included:

“Death riddle: German lover arrested over death of Brit girlfriend, 22, in hotel ‘sex game gone wrong’ after they were ‘heard arguing’ at 3am.” (The Sun)

“British woman, 22, dies after ‘sex game goes wrong’ in Swiss hotel” (Metro)

‘British woman, 22, found dead in Swiss hotel room ‘after sex game went wrong’ was discovered covered in cuts on bathroom floor before ‘agitated’ boyfriend was arrested’ (Mail)

The Sun reports a source close to the prosecutor who said “The boyfriend has said that it was an erotic game gone wrong”. The Metro writes that there were “initially no signs of violence found on the body” before reporting “small fractures and cuts were also found on her body”. The Mail describes the alleged perpetrator as “agitated” as he told the receptionist that “his girlfriend had a problem with her health.”

WHAT ARE THE FACTS

What we know so far about this tragic case is that a young woman was found unresponsive in a hotel bathroom with cuts on her body and was confirmed dead by medics. Hotel guests reported hearing a loud argument coming from the couple’s room at 3am, and the post-mortem confirmed that she had died from asphyxiation.

However, the media reports have chosen not to lead on the fact of the row, the cuts and fractures, or the cause of death. Instead they have focused on the boyfriend’s statement that this was a ‘sex game gone wrong’.

This privileges the boyfriend’s claim over the known facts relating to a woman’s death with the clear intent to make it more newsworthy.

An interview with forensic psychiatrist Alessandro Meluzzi in Italian news outlet Tio casts doubt on sex game defence in general, saying that it’s not necessarily supported by the facts of the case known so far: “it is always easier to talk about an erotic game that has ended badly, rather than to admit that they have intentionally killed a partner in other ways,” Meluzzi said. He also points out that the media had little regard for the facts in their reporting: “They make a hype of it. The public wants sex and blood, it is a voyeuristic society.” In doing this, they are (unwittingly or not) providing a platform for the alleged perpetrator’s defence, allowing his claim to frame what happened on the night Reed died.

It is up to investigators and the criminal justice system to determine what happened in Reed’s death, but the media already seem to have accepted the perpetrator’s defence as fact.

While the media has willingly reported the boyfriend’s defence and allowed this claim of a “sex game gone wrong” to frame the tragic event, tabloids have been busy speculating on the life of his alleged victim.

The majority of the tabloid reports have used glamorous shots of Reed, including pictures of her wearing a bikini. Diario Del Cauca reported that she was a “sexy influencer” and the Sun explained that her boyfriend had taken her shopping for expensive dresses before her death. They also wrote about the costs of the hotel room and how Reed posted lots of photos of herself from “exotic locations.”

At the same time, the Sun quotes a tailor who described the couple as seeming “so much in love”. While building up a specific narrative about Reed, they are once again providing space that supports the alleged perpetrator’s version of events. This creates a subtle sense of victim blaming.  

This is not the first case of a man using the “sex game goes wrong” defence following the death of a partner. In 2018, John Broadhurst was convicted of manslaughter after his girlfriend died of multiple injuries after “rough sex”. Natalie Connolly had suffered over 40 separate injuries, including some caused by “blunt force”. She was left to die on the floor after falling down a flight of stairs. In April 2019, a man accused of rape successfully defended his case with his lawyers claiming the alleged rape was “role play sex”.

These cases are becoming so common that veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman has warned against what she terms “the 50 Shades defence”. In response to Broadhurst’s conviction she told the the BBC that "no man will ever be accused of murder again if he can always say, 'yes she's injured, she wanted it’. She will never be able to say, 'no I didn't' because he's killed her and therefore she hasn't got a voice."

That’s the key to these cases: the women are dead and don’t have a voice to defend themselves. This is why newspaper editors need to be so careful about whose voice they decide to give space to when reporting on these cases.

Right now, they have chosen to give a voice to the alleged perpetrator -- allowing him to frame events while at the same time reducing Reed to photos taken from her Instagram profile. They have prioritized the narrative that it’s sex which was the problem, and it was sex which is the cause of death.

Whatever the outcome of this case, a “sex game gone wrong” was not the cause of Reed’s death. Asphyxiation was, and the tabloid media should remember that.

CONCLUSION

The many, many articles about this case represent clickbaiting and biased reporting. They misrepresent the facts by prioritizing the suspect’s defence in order to sensationalize a tragic case -- something unlikely to happen in any other kind of crime.

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