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Stealthing: A Violation of Consent

“Stealthing” has been popping up as a new sex “trend” among young and sexually active people. There is really nothing trendy about the practice at all. It is simply non-consensual condom removal. Stealthing occurs when a man who is having consensual sex and agreed to wear a condom removes or damages the condom immediately before or during intercourse without his partner’s consent. And it is not affecting young people solely. The practice has been reported in straight and gay communities, among married couples, and with both female and male victims.

Stealthing is considered sexual assault by sexual violence prevention experts because it turns a consensual sexual encounter into a non-consensual one. If a person does consent to sex with a condom, and that condom is removed without their permission, then their consent disappears. Whoever the victim may be, and whatever the circumstances of the sexual encounter may be, stealthing is inarguably a violation of consent. And consent is a requirement for the entirety of any sexual interaction. There cannot be sex without consent. We simply refer to that as rape. But understand that perpetrators derive pleasure from violating their victims and asserting their power over and perceived entitlement to the victim’s body.

Stealthing also falls under the umbrella of reproductive coercion, an already familiar component in many intimate partner violence situations. When a victim finds themselves pregnant with no resources or anyone to turn to, the abuser may continue controlling and manipulating the victim by creating a life-long tie between them. The resulting child may even be threatened by the abuser to force the victim’s continued compliance.

Such a violation of one’s dignity, autonomy, and trust can have long-lasting psychological effects as well. Victims will often feel confused and ashamed. Many survivors struggle to recognize their experience as sexual assault. And when anyone has been sexually assaulted or abused by a partner in any way it can damage their capacity to trust and feel safe.

The United States does not currently have any formal legislation that covers stealthing. There is no record that any US court has been asked to hear a case regarding condom removal. But laws already exist elsewhere, like the United Kingdom, where the new BBC series I May Destroy You is set. The lead character is victim of stealthing and the portrayal of that encounter has cast renewed light on the topic. Katie Russell, a spokesperson for Rape Crisis in the UK, explains in a recent Vogue article, “You may consent to sex with a condom but not without one. You have provided your consent on a condition, and if someone breaks that condition they are breaking the law.”

In 2014 a Supreme Court of Canada upheld a sexual assault conviction of a man who pierced holes in a condom without his sexual partner’s knowledge. In 2017 a Swiss court convicted a man for rape for removing a condom during sex against the expectations of the women he was having sex with. In 2018 a man was found guilty in Germany’s first conviction for stealthing. There may be hope for future legislative reform in the United States to encompass stealthing. Awareness of what it is and the impact it has on survivors will certainly improve its recognition as a crime, which will help advocates ensure support for the victims who do come forward.

If you have been the victim of stealthing, understand that it was fully your partner’s decision to remove the condom. It was not your fault. Contact a rape crisis center in your area as soon as you are able to. They may be able to assist you in screening for STIs, pregnancy, and obtaining emergency contraception. They may also assist you in filing a report, which can be incredibly empowering even in cases where legal action cannot be pursued. If you need to talk to someone about your own trauma stemming from stealthing, sexual assault, or any other form of intimate partner violence, Anafiel House is here with compassion and understanding.

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