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What is “stealthing” – the act which could soon become a type of sexual assault?

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Emily Reynolds
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The name ‘stealthing’ is relatively new, though the act itself – removing a condom during sex without asking your partner’s permission – is not. 

But a light has been shed on the practice in a new paper by Alexandra Brodsky of Yale Law School, which envisages some of the potential legal responses to the behaviour – and has revealed that the practice is happening more than ever.

She argues that engaging in stealthing should have legal consequences. 

“Victims say they do not know what to call the harm and United States courts have not had occasion to address and name the practice,” explains Brodsky. “Yet, despite a lack of legal recognition, the practice is widespread and known: an online sub-community of perpetrators has identified and dubbed the practice of nonconsensually removing condoms during sex ‘stealthing’.”

Brodsky goes on to explain that not only does the practice “put partners at risk for unwanted pregnancies and STIs”, it makes victims feel as if their trust has been violated and their autonomy denied; “not dissimilar to rape”. But despite this, the law remains “largely silent”. 

But why do perpetrators engage in stealthing? One interview, broadcast on ABC Australia, goes some way to explain the behaviour – and it’s simply because “it feels better”.

“It feels better with no condom on,” ‘Brendan’ said. “If I have no reason to wear a condom then I don't really see the problem.”

This attitude is reflected elsewhere, often in even more explicit terms. “It’s a man’s instinct to shoot his load into a woman’s *****,” one stealthing forum member wrote. “He should never be denied that right.”

“To me you can’t have one and not the other, if she wants the guy’s **** then she also has to take the guy’s load!!!” wrote another; in language reminiscent of other forms of sexual assault. Yet another said women “deserve it”. 

This kind of lewd, consequence-free posturing is even more remarkable when compared with the testimonials of people subject to stealthing. One victim, ‘Sara’ told Brodsky that she felt the experience was “adjacent to rape”, a feeling prevalent amongst victims.

"Obviously the part that really freaked me out… was that it was such a blatant violation of what we'd agreed to. I set a boundary. I was very explicit," she said. 

Regardless of the current law, most critics are in agreement that the act should have legal ramifications for those who engage in it. 

“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,” writes Brodsky. 

“Ultimately, a new tort for stealthing is necessary both to provide victims with a more viable cause of action and to reflect better the harms wrought by nonconsensual condom removal.”

And as for the UK, stealthing can be classified as rape or sexual assault as it breaches “conditional consent” – so get in touch with the police if you feel you’ve been affected.