Lisa Wade feared she would die when she was brutally throttled during sex – yet when she reported the assault, her attacker claimed it had been consensual. Anna Moore discovered that this defense is being increasingly used for sexual violence. 

Lisa Wade suffers post-traumatic stress five years on from her horrific ordeal

Lisa Wade suffers from post-traumatic stress five decades after her terrible ordeal

When Lisa Wade allowed a man she’d known for four years into her flat late one night in April 2016, she could never have imagined that within minutes, she’d be fighting for her life.

This man was a friend and, at the end of drunken nights out, an on-off sexual partner – a ‘friend with benefits’. Since he didn’t live too far from her flat, they’d recently fallen into a bit of a pattern – if he was out late, he would text and ask if he could stay over. Lisa would usually say yes.

He did the same on that night. When he arrived, he was drunk – Lisa had only had one glass of wine with her dinner. She was only wearing a dress. She was not at all vulnerable. ‘There was nothing to tell me that he was in a bad mood or that anything different would happen,’ says Lisa, who is now 30, an NHS manager and freelance writer.

‘The moment I shut the door of the flat, he hit me. I was stunned – he must have seen by my reaction that I wasn’t expecting it. I kind of stumbled away from him and towards my bedroom when he hit me again. And that’s when the strangulation happened.’

This man was huge. ‘He would have been one and a half times, maybe twice my weight,’ says Lisa. ‘My first instinct was to fumble for my phone to call for help but he knocked it out of my hand. I fell against the wall and knocked over my bedside lamp. I put up a hell of a fight initially.’

Sophie Moss was strangled in February. Her killer was successfully prosecuted for manslaughter not murder

Sophie Moss was strangled to death in February. Her killer was convicted for manslaughter and not murder.

The strangulation was long. ‘It wasn’t just one period of strangulation,’ she says. ‘He was choking me with one hand, then I’d resist, he’d release then pull my head back and grab my throat again.’ (The next day, when the bedroom had become a crime scene, police noted the clumps of hair.) ‘I wasn’t screaming,

I was wheezing,’ she says, ‘and the last time he did it, when I nearly passed out, I could feel the room disappearing around me. It was blurred. It was a blurring sensation. It’s really weird to describe but there was this feeling of calm, this peaceful acceptance.’

Then, suddenly, her attacker released her and began laughing. ‘Don’t you know I’ve done that before?’ he taunted. ‘Don’t you trust me to know what I’m doing?’ Once in the past he had put his hands to her throat during sex and she froze in horror, telling him to remove them immediately – which he did. Other than that there had been no ‘rough sex’.

The recent case of Sophie Moss, 32, from Darlington has put ‘rough sex’ in the news again. In September, her killer, Sam Pybus, received a four-year, eight-month sentence for manslaughter, after claiming that Sophie died by accident during consensual sex, and that Sophie ‘encouraged’ him to apply pressure to her neck. After public outrage over the lenient sentence the case was referred to Court of Appeal.

While there are no thorough records kept on the ‘rough sex defence’ and how often it has been used in court, the campaign group We Can’t Consent To This has tried to keep count. According to their records, there was a tenfold increase in the use of ‘rough sex defence’ between 1996-2016. Out of 60 homicides where men used the ‘rough sex’ defence after killing women, 45 per cent resulted in the lesser charge of manslaughter instead of murder, or no charge at all.

In all these cases, of course, the victims were unable to confirm or deny the claims that they enjoyed and encouraged ‘rough sex’. They were both dead. But what about women who are not killed – and come forward to report the attack? Lisa was in her 20s and had two degrees from Cambridge when this happened. ‘My life had been relatively limited,’ she says. ‘I knew about the fetish scene but I had no interest in that and, anyway, I thought that was supposed to include strict boundaries and consent.’

How could anyone have looked at the bruises and believed I’d consented? 

When her assailant finally released the neck of her, she froze in her apartment. ‘I was a wreck – I’d almost died,’ she says. ‘People have asked, “Why didn’t you get out then?” I think I made a split-second decision that I was not going to anger him or try to run. Maybe if I just stayed still and tried not to provoke him, I’d be all right.’ The man dragged her on to the bed and raped her multiple times in multiple ways – while also hitting her round the face and pulling her hair. He finally went to sleep, while Lisa lay frozen next to him, waiting for the morning. ‘I was definitely in shock but I also knew I was going to the police,’ she says. ‘I knew that from the moment he put his hands on my throat. There was no question. It was so terrifying, I never wanted anyone else to go through this.’ When her alarm clock rang,

Lisa got up to go to her kitchen. She heard her attacker take a shower and then leave the flat. That day was spent in her local police station, then with the Met’s rape investigation Sapphire Unit. The Havens specialist centre also conducted a forensic exam. She didn’t get home until 11pm.


‘I wasn’t crying,’ she says. ‘I was a zombie. Numb and confused.’ The next day, she had a two-and-a-half-hour video interview with the police. ‘It sounds stupid doesn’t it, but maybe because I knew him, I was worried about him,’ she says. ‘Was I doing the right thing? He’d done this terrifying, horrible thing to me, he could do it to someone else… but I was worried I was going to ruin his life.’

He was actually taken into custody and interviewed that day. He claimed that all that happened that night was consensual. ‘I can’t understand how anyone could have looked at the bruises on me and believed I’d have consented,’ says Lisa. She had fingerprint bruises on both arms where she’d been held down. There were red marks on her elbow. Her neck had a dark bruise under her ear on one side – very much like a handprint. (The police didn’t photograph her injuries.) To hide her injuries, she wore a scarf for two to three weeks. She was also given painkillers for whiplash.

The case was reopened by the police and CPS over the next few months. Lisa was constantly asked to submit more information – about herself, not the case. ‘I had to give them my mobile phone twice, they wanted to see all my medical records which was so hard to organise because I’d lived in Lincolnshire, Nottingham, Cambridge, London and Australia. It felt as if they were looking for reasons to drop the case. I wanted to ask, “Have you got his phone? Have you got his medical records?”’

Lisa was informed by her attacker that she was facing charges of rape in January 2017. ‘I asked, “Where’s the assault charge? What about the strangulation?” I couldn’t understand how such a violent attack could be brushed aside. I felt terrible disappointment that he failed to recognize the strangulation and hit, as well as the near death. He got off on it – seeing me in pain and frightened drove him on. In my opinion, the evidence of assault was overwhelming but with rape charges, it’s your word against his. If someone commits rape, they’re more than likely to walk free. So that would leave me with nothing.’

This is exactly what happened. Even though, following the charges, another woman came forward to say she had also been raped by this person and her case was added to Lisa’s, in October 2017, their joint case was dropped before it had come to court. Police told Lisa that there was not enough evidence and that the CPS would not proceed without her complete medical records.

According to Fiona Mackenzie, founder of We Can’t Consent To This, this is a common pattern. ‘We often hear from women who were horribly, violently assaulted during sex and the small number who have gone to the police have been asked, “Are you sure you didn’t consent?” Even in cases where perpetrators are eventually charged, it is rarely for the assault – it might be for rape or something else – so it leaves this bizarre gap where women experience absolutely terrifying assaults which are never prosecuted.’

Mackenzie hopes that the growing awareness of these assaults and the dangers associated with strangulation will lead to more prosecutions. The Domestic Abuse Bill has made non-fatal strangulation an explicit crime with a five-year penalty. It was previously considered battery, the mildest form of assault.

Lisa is still deeply affected by that night, five years later. ‘I’m on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. I’ve got PTSD. I panic when someone touches me on the shoulder. ‘I have dated, but only if somebody is introduced to me and knows my friends.

I must be 100% certain about their backgrounds. I can’t put myself out there. I know too many friends who’ve had dodgy experiences with men they’ve met through apps and I can’t run the risk of anything awful happening to me again.’ Lisa is right to be cautious; one extensive study found that more than a third of UK women under the age of 40 have experienced unwanted violence during sex, including choking, gagging, slapping and spitting. That’s the equivalent of 3.6 million women in the UK.

Lisa also moved to South Lincolnshire to be near her family, which is the same area she grew up in. ‘I know this sounds insane but in London, I kept seeing him on the street,’ she says. ‘He wasn’t really there – it was just men who in some way resembled him. That’s what I do even now. I see or hear something that reminds me and suddenly I’m back in the room with him.’

She wants to speak out here, on record. Why? ‘I want to show the very human cost of rape and sexual violence,’ she says. ‘I want to show that I’ve got absolutely no reason to lie. I have no doubt in my mind that if I’d have died that night – like Sophie Moss died – he would have used the rough sex defence. He’d have said that I asked for it. Would he have believed me?

‘It was luck that got me out of the situation alive and I feel this sense of responsibility that when he does reoffend, I should have prevented it. He’s got a very high potential to kill.’; for information and support after sexual violence, visit

 Hair and make-up: Helen Brady