A bill dealing with the consequences for the act of ‘stealthing’ is on the table of the California state governor Gavin Newsom right now. If this bill is signed by the governor, California will become the first US state to declare stealthing as a violation of consent and punish the culprit for this act.
What is Stealthing?
Stealthing can be considered a shuttle form of rape. According to juctice.gov, rape is defined as “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
Coming back to stealthing, it is when a partner secretly removes the condom during sex without the consent of the other half. What does both the definition have in common? The 'Consent' part! Any form of sexual activity performed without the consent of another person is rape.
Hence, people are considering stealthing as equivalent to rape. It is inhumane and it risks the victim for STDs, unwanted pregnancy, and embarrassment.
What is California's new stealthing law?
This bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia. She had also introduced the bill four years back demanding to criminalize this act but it could not pass the legislature. The recent bill has some changes. This bill would amend the state’s civil code and allow the victim to sue the culprit for financial damages. It does not include jail time provision though.
The bill says when a person is committing stealthing, they are liable to that person for many kinds of damages like general damages, special damages, punitive damages. There may be more damages that are case-specific.
- General damages for the non-consensual condom removal include financial support provided to the victim for the physical and emotional pain caused by the act and the psychological injury after that.
- Special damages include the monetary cost of treatment or mental and psychiatric cases that the sufferer might require.
- Under California Civil Code 3294, a victim can also seek punitive damages. Punitive damages are paid in addition to the actual damage if the culprit has been proven guilty of recklessness, malice, or deceit.
This bill does not amend criminal codes. It just gives the victim right to sue the culprit for the damages caused to them
As told earlier, the bill was introduced by Cristina Garcia and co-authored by her fellow assembly member Blanca Rubio. Gracia wrote on Twitter - "My bill #AB453 is on its way to the Gov’s desk, hopefully, he’ll sign it & lead for the nation. It makes it clear that ‘stealthing’ or removing a condom w/out permission isn’t just immoral, but it’s illegal.”
How serious is the issue of Stealthing?
Globally, one in three women and one in five men have been victims of stealthing, according to a 2018 study. A paper from 2019 reported that 12% of women ages 21 to 30 said they had a partner involved in stealthing. An obvious report from the Yale University study in 2017 found that the incident of stealthing is constantly rising against women and gay men.
According to the data by NCBI, 1189 of 2883 women (41.2%), and 1063 of 3439 MSM (30.9%) attending the clinic during the study period completed the survey. 32% of women and 19% of men who have sex with men (MSM) reported having ever experienced stealthing.
Sex workers were the most vulnerable among all to be stealthed. MSM who had experienced NCCR (non-consensual condom removal) were more likely to report anxiety or depression. Both female and male participants who had experienced stealthing were three times less likely to consider it to be sexual assault than participants who had not experienced it.
Stealthing has potentially serious consequences. The majority of patients reported consequences following the stealthing incident, with over half experiencing emotional stress.
In summary, NCCR was commonly experienced by our clinic population, with a third of women and a fifth of MSM reporting it, with situational contexts often involving alcohol and/or drugs in women and geosocial networking applications in MSM. Sex work was a clear risk factor identified among women, and risk factors for MSM included anxiety and depression.
World's take on Stealthing
It is ironic how we accept the United States as one of the safest countries in the world but they do not have a stealthing law yet in their country. But there are countries that have already made laws regarding stealthing or at least are in process of so.
- In 2017, a Swiss court in Lausanne convicted a man for rape for removing a condom during sex against the expectations of the woman he was having sex with.
- In April of 2021, a man in New Zealand was convicted of rape for performing stealthing during a consensual act with a sex worker (the event took place in 2018). The man was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison.
- In the UK, although no specific legislation has been enacted, there have been a handful of convictions and thus case law has established that non-consensual condom removal is rape.
- In 2018, a man was found guilty of sexual assault in Germany's first conviction for stealthing.
- A 2014 Supreme Court of Canada ruling upheld a sexual assault conviction of a man who poked holes in his condom.
- In May 2017, an Australian court case was underway regarding stealthing. The president of the NSW law society has described stealthing as sexual assault because it changes the terms of consent.
It is good to see that more countries are now treating stealthing as a sexual assault and not just a moral choice. It is high time that other countries too make laws regarding NCCR or stealthing. California is setting an example that the world must follow.
There are certain concerns about the issue such as the lack of evidence. How are we going to decide if consent was given or the victim is simply lying?
We may also see a spike in the false cases registered just for compensation/money. But these issues should not be a reason to not punish those who really do such acts.