The practice of “stealthing” refers to men secretly removing or damaging condoms without their partners’ knowledge.
Apart from the health concerns associated with this practice, the experience is jarring for the victims, and leaves them feeling violated, confused, and upset.
Alexandra Brodsky, fellow at the National Women’s Law Center, studied the phenomenon back when she was a student at Yale Law School and detailed her findings in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law.
Her recently published study sparked public discussions on the legal status of this trend, which Brodsky claims is “rape-adjacent.”
As she points out, giving this practice an official name could be a major support for survivors of sexual assault, many of whom face an uphill battle in the legal system.
“I worry that victims (of stealthing) might struggle in court using current laws,” said Brodsky, who calls for the introduction of specific laws regarding nonconsensual condom removal.
Seen As A Sex Crime
Overlooked by the law, nonconsensual condom removal is a harmful and often gender-motivated form of sexual violence, explains Brodsky. Her study shows this practice can be interpreted as something that has the potential “to transform consensual sex into nonconsensual sex.”
“Nonconsensual condom removal during sexual intercourse exposes victims to physical risks of pregnancy and disease and, interviews make clear, is experienced by many as a grave violation of dignity and autonomy,” Brodsky writes in the abstract of her paper.
In the study, she advocates for a new civil law that could protect stealthing victims and offer “a more viable cause of action and to reflect better the harms wrought by nonconsensual condom removal.”
Although Brodsky has found no record of an American court ever reviewing a case of nonconsensual condom removal, she points to criminal cases in several foreign countries, such as Switzerland and Canada, where men have been prosecuted after removing or breaking condoms without their partners’ knowledge.
What is clear from Brodsky’s study is that nonconsensual condom removal inflicts the same kind of emotional, physical, and financial trauma upon the victims as other forms of abuse that have been defined beyond any doubt as sex crimes.
Is Stealthing Rape?
Women aren’t the only victims, as this trend also occurs in the gay community, Brodsky found.
Nevertheless, all victims share a common trait: despite feeling utterly violated, they are uncertain if they can label the experience as rape.
Rape crisis organizations are however supporting Brodsky’s claim that nonconsensual condom removal can be construed as sexual assault.
According to Clíona Saidléar of Rape Crisis Network Ireland, this practice is a “very serious offense” that actually constitutes a crime in Ireland.
“It would be defined as an assault under Irish law,” says Saidléar, who points out that consent to sex doesn’t make stealthing less of an abuse, since it doesn’t equal consent to condom removal.
“What underlines all of this is the denial of the woman’s right to choose what happens to her body,” she says.
Brian Pinero, vice president of victim services for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which operates The National Sexual Assault Hotline, views the practice as a clear breach of consent.
“You only consent to however far you want to go,” says Pinero, who also refers to the psychological and physical harms people can undergo after such an experience.
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