California became the first state in the US to outlaw stealthing this week. But what exactly is it, and what has led to the new law?
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. 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% of men who have sex with men reported that they had experienced stealthing.
What are the key concerns about stealthing?
Author of the book Sexual Justice, Alexandra Brodsky, 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.”
What does the law say about stealthing in California?
According to the California law which was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday, it’s now a civil offense for someone to remove a condom without their partner’s consent.
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 offense, 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.
What’s brought stealthing into the spotlight?
Ms Brodsky wrote an influential law journal article about stealthing in 2017, called ‘Rape-Adjacent’: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal, which is considered to have had a major impact on its legality.
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, recent BBC TV show I May Destroy You features the main character, Arabella, having sex with a man who removes his condom during sex without her knowledge.
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