In New Zealand, a man is currently on trial for the murder of 21-year-old backpacker Grace Millane. But from the media coverage, you would think it was Millane who was on trial, for the crime of allegedly having an interest in BDSM.
Grace Millane, a British woman, was traveling in New Zealand when she met a 27-year-old man on Tinder. (His name is being withheld by the courts.) What happened next is the subject of the trial that is currently unfolding. The defense is claiming that Millane died by accident, pleading rough sex gone wrong, consensual choking that ended in tragedy. They’ve submitted the details of Millane’s sex life as evidence. And media coverage has regurgitated those details, frequently treating them and not a woman’s murder as the story—a lurid, shocking, sensational one at that.
The Independent: “Grace Millane: British backpacker gave list of fetishes to man on BDSM website, murder trial told.”
The Evening Standard: “Grace Millane was member of BDSM dating sites and asked ex-partner to choke her during sex, court hears.”
Sky News: “Grace Millane’s former partner: She asked me to choke her during sex.”
The New York Post: “Killed backpacker Grace Millane was into choking, BDSM: court evidence.”
The Sun: “‘WE HAD A SAFE WORD’ Murdered Brit Grace Millane was a member of BDSM sites and asked ex to choke her in bed, trial hears.”
The coverage is collapsing the distance between risky but consensual kink and violent murder. Here are some details that reestablish the difference, via the BBC. After Millane died, according to prosecutor Brian Dickey, the suspect began searching for how to dispose of her body—rather than, say, calling an ambulance. It gets worse:
“He wasn’t distressed or concerned by her death,” he said, adding the suspect then began searching pornography.
The defendant at one point allegedly broke off his internet search to take intimate photos of Ms Millane’s body.
He then resumed visiting pornographic websites, before searching for “large bags near me” and “rigor mortis”.
The following day, he went on a Tinder date with another woman with the body of Ms Millane still in the apartment.
“At some point in which she lost consciousness and would have become limp and lifeless and he had to carry on,” said prosecutor Brian Dickey in his closing speech, Sky News reported, and according to pathology experts, it would have taken five to ten minutes to strangle her. Allegedly, he eventually stuffed her body into a suitcase and buried it.
To frame Millane’s death in terms of her reported sexual preferences rather than the actions of the unnamed suspect is to put the responsibility on Millane, even if the outlets don’t come right out and say it. It excuses those who are reckless, unconcerned about their partner’s safety. It suggests to kinky people that if they do find themselves in a dangerous situation, they can’t expect sympathy, understanding, or help from the wider world. And it tells predators where they can find victims who won’t be believed.