Stealthing is the act of non-consensual condom removal during sexual intercourse with a partner that consented to protected sex. A person can stealthily remove the condom or damage it prior to having sexual intercourse without consulting their partner.
The term stealthing has existed since at least 2014 within the queer community. The 2017 article by civil rights litigator Alexandra Brodsky is credited for making it a subject of discourse. In the article, Brodsky described the experiences of people that dealt with stealthing, along with legal implications and legal avenues to address it. Several online forums contained posts about people bragging about stealthing along with how-to guides.
According to a study, 32 per cent of women reported experiencing stealthing and 19 per cent of men who had sex with men reported the same. The act of non-consensual condom removal also increases the chances of unwanted pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The Australian Capital Territory’s Liberal opposition leader Elizabeth Lee is currently heading the proposal to change the consent legislation to explicitly criminalise stealthing. Lee said that “Sex without consent is sexual assault. And sexual assault is a crime. In essence, stealthing is rape.”
Impact Of Stealthing
In 2017, the Belgian journalist Heleen Debruyne spoke about how stealthing should not be described as a “new sex trend” by the media. Instead, it should be made clear that it is a “form of abuse” instead of implying it is a harmless trend.
Not only does it increase the chances of unwanted pregnancy and transmission of STIs, but it also has an impact on a person’s mental health. The act of stealthing can be regarded as a form of sexual assault or rape or reproductive coercion. It involves a breach of trust and consent as the partner consented to protected sex and is unaware the condom has been damaged/removed.
Legal Status In India
The illegality of stealthing in India remains unclear due to the absence of legal precedent.
Associate professor at National Law University, Delhi, Mrinal Satish said that it is covered in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) under rape. But only if a woman explicitly states that the consent is conditional if her partner wears a condom. The IPC defines rape as “an unequivocal voluntary agreement when the woman by words, gestures or any form of verbal or non-verbal communication, communicates unwillingness to participate in the specific sexual act.”
Thus, if a woman consents to sexual intercourse with the condition that a condom is worn and stealthing takes place, then the sexual intercourse after the removal of the condom will amount to rape.
Women’s rights lawyer Flavia Agnes said that “The law in India deals only with consent; and non-consent, it’s very black-and-white. It doesn’t have the finesse that can make such an act punishable.”
International Legal Status
In 2017, the president of the New South Wales (NSW) law society Pauline Wright described stealthing as a form of sexual assault as there is no consent. An Australian court In 2018 charged a man with raping his partner after he removed his condom without consent while they were having sex. In April 2021, Elizabeth Lee began pushing to explicitly criminalise nonconsensual condom removal.
In 2014, a man who poked holes in a condom without his partner’s knowledge was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
In 2018, a police officer was charged with sexual assault after he removed a condom during social intercourse. The survivor told the court that she had “explicitly requested” that he wear a condom and she gave no consent to unprotected sex.
- United States of America
In 2021, California Assembly member Cristina Garcia proposed a bill that criminalised stealthing. If the bill passes, it will be the first anti-stealthing law in the USA. A Wisconsin state lawmaker had also proposed legislation that would make it an act equivalent to sexual assault.
In 2017, a man was convicted for rape after removing a condom during sexual intercourse without his partner’s consent.
In another case in 2019, the Supreme Court of Zürich held that stealthing was not illegal.