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What is stealthing? Dutch court convicts man who secretly removed condom without consent

It’s a civil offence in California to remove a condom without consent during sex

Helen Elfer,Chelsea Ritschel
Wednesday 15 March 2023 18:45 GMT
California makes condom removal without consent illegal

A man has been convicted by a Dutch court of “stealthing,” or removing his condom without his partner’s consent.

The ruling, which marked the first trial in the Netherlands for stealthing according to local media, came after the Dordrecht District Court acquitted the man of a rape charge on the basis that the sexual encounter in 2021 was consensual.

However, under the stealthing charge, the 28-year-old man has been given a three-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay $1,075 in compensation to the victim on charges of coercion, the Rotterdam court said.

“By his actions, the suspect forced the victim to tolerate having unprotected sex with him. In doing so, he restricted her personal freedom and abused the trust she had placed in him,” the court said, according to CBS News.

The Dutch court case comes after California became the first state in the US to outlaw stealthing last year, when the state added the act to its civil definition of sexual battery. But what exactly is stealthing?

What does the term “stealthing” mean?

“Stealthing” is a commonly used term for the non-consensual removal of a condom during sex. Until recently it’s been a little-known, or at least little-discussed phenomenon. However, the topic has started becoming an important part of the conversation around sexual consent.

According to a 2018 survey of patients at a sexual health clinic in Melbourne, Australia, almost one third of women and 19 per cent of men who have sex with men reported that they had experienced stealthing.

What are the key concerns about stealthing?

Alexandra Brodsky, civil rights lawyer and author of the book Sexual Justice, explained to NPR that non-consensual condom removal is itself a serious violation, and brings the added risks of unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease.

“The experience of realising that your partner, your sexual partner, has no concern for your autonomy, your individual dignity, your right to make decisions about who you have sex with, when and how,” said Ms Brodsky, “that’s a terrible violation regardless of whether a physical injury occurs, regardless of whether a pregnancy occurs.”

In a 2017 paper by Ms Brodsky, which quoted victims of stealthing as describing the act as “rape-adjacent,” she argued that guidelines and laws needed to be put in place to “both provide victims with a more viable cause of action and to reflect better the harms wrought my nonconsensual condom removal”.

What does the law say about stealthing in California?

According to the California law, which was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, it’s now a civil offence for someone to remove a condom without their partner’s consent in the state.

State Assembly member Cristina Garcia, who sponsored the legislation, said: “For a majority of the people, it’s like: ‘Yeah, it makes sense that this is immoral and it should be illegal.’” She added: “A lot of people told me: ‘I can’t believe it’s not already illegal.’”

Ms Garcia said she wanted the new law to inspire change in other states, and add to society’s understanding of sexual violence more widely.

“I do hope that other states follow,” she said. “I do hope that this elevates the discussion.”

While stealthing won’t be a crime under California law, it will be a civil offence, enabling those who experience it to sue the perpetrators in civil court.

“Civil litigation keeps decision-making in the hands of survivors, which can be particularly important in the wake of sexual violence, which is itself a denial of the victim’s right to make decisions about their lives,” Ms Brodsky said.

As of now, California is the only state that prohibits stealthing.

What’s brought stealthing into the spotlight?

Ms Brodsky’s influential law journal article about stealthing, calledRape-Adjacent’: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal, is considered to have had a major impact on its legality and the public’s awareness of stealthing.

Ms Brodsky told NPR that, at the time, few people were talking openly about the practice of non-consensual condom removal, and that victims face additional scrutiny because stealthing happens within the context of initially consensual sex.

Adding to the growing awareness of the topic, the BBC TV show I May Destroy You featured the main character, Arabella, having sex with a man who removes his condom during sex without her knowledge.

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