An immensely distressing trend that has triggered treacherous consequences is the act of ‘stealthing.’ It refers to men taking off their condoms without partner’s consent, during consensual sex. Not only such men engage in covertly removing condoms, but have also been reportedly bragging about such offensive deeds on social media. A study was conducted by Alexandra Brodsky on this practice where it was found to be violating nuances of criminal and civil law. In her research that she conducted for Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Brodsky detailing ‘stealthing’, where she profiled Rebecca, a doctoral student. Rebecca had been a victim of this conniving act. Several cases have been recounted and Brodsky argues that “this should be treated as a form of sexual assault. “
In favour of those victimized to such situations, Kathleen Kempke who works with the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay exclaimed that in view of the latest trend, all those subject to ‘stealthing’, “deserve the same kind of services and support that a victim that is raped by a stranger or raped by an acquaintance would get.”
The study also highlighted the significance of having a mechanism to address this issue where men brag about ‘stealthing’ on online forums. However, as expressed by Hunter Chamberlin who is the Tampa Defense Attorney, with reference to the existing statues there is none that exists to prosecute ‘stealthers’ in Florida. He said that the courts required to primarily define “what consent means” in order to state this behaviour as an illegal one. Despite the heightened risk of pregnancy and possibility of spreading sexually transmitted diseases, the study concluded that the existing laws do not explicitly cover ‘stealthing.’ USF students demanded protection against ‘stealthing’ stating that there should a law to cover such devious acts.
Brodsky says that her study does not deliberate a position on whether the act should be classified as rape, though her research highlighted similarities between both the situations. She mentioned that one of the women she interviewed called her experience as “rape adjacent.” Brodsky expressed her desire for a new civil law that would provide a distinct legal path for victims, specifically addressing incidences of non-consensual condom removal.
In its firsts in the United States, under the bills introduced by lawmakers in California and Wisconsin, removing a condom or any protective device during sex without permission could become a sexual assault, punishable by law. Melissa Sargent, the Wisconsin Democratic Rep. was the first in the country to propose a bill that would modify her state’s interpretation of consent. Sargent’s legislative assistant, Britt Cudaback reported to BuzzFeed News that the law would be applicable to women as well, i.e. the protective measures used by them including “diaphragms, cervical caps and other devices intended to prevent pregnancy.” In California, legislation was introduced to expand the state’s definition of rape that included “tampering with a protective device during sex without the other person’s knowledge.” Cristina Garcia, the assembly woman cited her example to enumerate that people often have difficulty with the idea as they consider sex to be consensual.
Sargent and Garcia aim at augmenting the issue at the national level so that more people become aware of non-consensual condom removal as a violation and akin to sexual assault. Garcia said, “It’s no longer consensual if you take a condom off without my permission.” While there are rampant stories across internet forums where people describe their individual experiences, they aren’t aware that it’s wrong. The Vice President of Communications for Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, Jodi Omear said that “Sexual assault is defined differently by each state, but ‘stealthing’ is a violation of consent. If someone has consented to using a condom during sex and someone takes it off, it’s a violation of consent that a person has given.”
In Switzerland, a similar incidence took place and the Swiss Federal Supreme Court sentenced the offender for 12 months. Though this was the first Swiss case, it has no bearing on the rest of the European continent as rape laws and its execution differ widely across Europe. The case has not resulted in an actual prosecution yet, but it was explicated by the court that the girl “consented to sex on the clear understanding that her partner would not ejaculate inside her. He knew and understood that this was the only basis on which she would consent to have sex with him. (So when he did) she was deprived of her choice, and her consent was negated.”
The question here is to understand whether it is to be implicitly recognized as rape by the juror. It is considered that several women may not press charges of rape in such partway condom removal circumstances. While this is not entirely attributed to their ignorance, it could just be an instance where one begins stratifying the degree of rape into categories such as “classic, serious, violent, marital, sort-of, etc.”
Several organizations that track sexual assault and rape mentioned that they do not have data on women who report on their partners removing condoms without consent. However, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 1 in 7 women have reportedly experienced their partners interfering with contraception.
The Istanbul Convention, aimed at bringing all acts, including non-consensual acts of sexual nature into a cohesive human rights framework, is one of the most affirmative international moves towards developing a comprehensive and transparent law. Hope with the acknowledgement of this rising trend as a crime, universally protective laws emerge.
Article by Rochita.