Non-consensual condom removal
Non-consensual condom removal, or "stealthing", is the practice of a man covertly removing a condom during sexual intercourse, or damaging it before sexual intercourse, when his sex partner has only consented to condom-protected sex. Victims are exposed to potential sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV/AIDS, or unwanted pregnancies. Such behaviour may be therefore regarded as sexual assault or rape, and sometimes as a form of reproductive coercion. As of 2020, stealthing is punishable as a form of sexual violence in some countries, such as Germany and the United Kingdom.
History and practice
In an article about stealthing published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Alexandra Brodsky described victims' experiences, legal implications, and legal avenues to address stealthing. The term stealthing has been in use in the gay community to describe this practice since at least 2014.[update]
Brodsky described how the practice of stealthing is discussed, described, and advocated for on various websites and forums. These forums are sometimes used to brag about committing stealthing and to share tips on how to do it. How-to guides have been posted to social media platforms like The Experience Project. The practice has also been described as "a threat to [a victim's] bodily agency and as a dignitary harm", and men who do this "justify their actions as a natural male instinct". Columbia Law School professor Suzanne Goldberg says that the practice of stealthing is likely not new, but its promotion on the internet among men is new. Belgian journalist Heleen Debruyne emphasised in 2017 that the media should not refer to stealthing as a 'new sex trend' as if it were a harmless fad, but make clear that it is a 'form of abuse'.
Teitelman et al. (2011) found that condom negotiation is often silenced by male partners in adolescent relationships, partially due to the female's fear of her partner's response, a feeling of obligation, and a lack of knowledge or skills in negotiating condom use. To prevent this, it is important that male partners are reached with the information as to why condoms are beneficial for them as well. Forums for this outreach could include community-wide interventions fostering discussion of healthy and unhealthy relationship practices and prevention programs for HIV/AIDS and STIs. Schools can provide a safe site for prevention interventions, but high-risk adolescents who are not in school must be reached through additional means, such as in community centers or detention centers.
A 2013 article in The Week noted: 'Both men and women can be perpetrators of birth control sabotage. In fact, women have often been stereotyped as purposefully trying to get pregnant against their partner's desires as a way to "trap" a man. But the issues of reproductive coercion and birth control sabotage have recently gained more attention because of a Canadian case [R v. Hutchinson], in which a man poked holes in a pack of condoms so his girlfriend would get pregnant and stay with him.'
Statistics on the prevalence of stealthing are limited. However, a 2014 study by Kelly Cue Davis and colleagues reported that 9.0% of participants in their sample of young men reported having engaged in condom sabotage, which included non-consensual condom removal. The National Sexual Assault Hotline reports receiving calls about stealthing. A recent study from a Melbourne-based sexual health clinic asked women and men who have sex with men (MSM) attending the clinic whether they had experienced stealthing, and analysed situational factors associated with the event. Thirty-two percent of women and 19% of MSM reported having ever experienced stealthing. Women who had been stealthed were more likely to be a current sex worker and MSM who had experienced stealthing 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. Two other studies were recently published with U.S. samples. One study found that almost 10% of young male non-problem drinkers reported having engaged in nonconsensual condom removal since the age of 14. Men who had engaged in this behavior reported higher rates of STI diagnoses and partners with unplanned pregnancies than men who had not engaged in nonconsensual condom removal. In another study of young adult women, 12% reported that they had experienced nonconsensual condom removal by a male partner, while none of the participants reported engaging in nonconsensual condom removal themselves.
Brianna Chesser and April Zahra (2019) stated in Current Issues in Criminal Justice: 'While the majority of complainant accounts indicate that this crime is perpetrated by men, it is also possible for a female to 'stealth' her partner and remove the condom without her partner's consent. It follows that both men and women can both be victims and perpetrators of stealthing.'
In her research on stealthing, Brodsky noted that Swiss and Canadian courts have prosecuted cases of condoms broken or removed by men unbeknownst to their partners. Brodsky describes stealthing as legally "rape-adjacent" and akin to rape.
- Australia: 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.
- Canada: A 2014 Supreme Court of Canada ruling (R v. Hutchinson) upheld a sexual assault conviction of a man who poked holes in his condom.
- Germany: In 2018, a man was found guilty of sexual assault in Germany's first conviction for stealthing.
- Switzerland: 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, but in another case in 2019, the cantonal supreme court of Zürich disagreed. The cantonal supreme court held that such conduct was not illegal, albeit with regret.
- United Kingdom: In UK law, consent to a specific sex act, but not to any sex act without exceptions, is known as conditional consent.
- United States: Existing laws in the United States do not specifically cover stealthing and there are no known legal cases about it.
- California: California Assembly member Cristina Garcia proposed a bill in February 2021 which would make it illegal to '[cause] contact between a penis, from which a condom has been removed, and the intimate part of another who did not verbally consent to the condom being removed' during sex. Such an act would then be punishable as 'sexual battery'. Previously, Garcia introduced similar bills in 2017 and 2018 for the Californian criminal code, but they didn't receive a hearing or died in committee, so Garcia sought to add the provision to the state's civil code this time. If passed, it would be the first anti-stealthing law in a U.S. state.
Impact and risks
Removing or damaging a condom during sex increases the risks of unintended pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Victims may feel betrayal and many victims see it as a "grave violation of dignity and autonomy". Many may also experience emotional and psychological distress, especially those who have experienced sexual violence in the past.
In popular culture
The phrase "rape adjacent" appears in Michaela Coel's 2020 television miniseries I May Destroy You, which includes a scene depicting non-consensual condom removal. In episode five, Arabella (played by Coel) publicly describes how Zain (played by Karan Gill) removed a condom during sex without her consent or knowledge and identifies him as rapist under U.K. law: "not rape-adjacent or a bit rapey, he's a rapist under U.K. law." She goes on to distinguish U.K. law from that of the United States and Australia, explaining "if you're in the States, he's rape-adjacent and if you're in Australia, he's a bit rapey."
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- Brodsky, Alexandra (2017). "'Rape-Adjacent': Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal". Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. 32 (2). SSRN 2954726.
- Alexandra Stanic & Rose Donohoe (10 February 2020). "'He Secretly Took the Condom Off' – People Talk About the Times They Were 'Stealthed'". Vice. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
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- Teitelman, Anne M.; Tennille, Julie; Bohinski, Julia M.; Jemmott, Loretta S.; Jemmott, John B. 3rd (2011). "Unwanted unprotected sex: Condom coercion by male partners and self-silencing of condom negotiation among adolescent girls". Advances in Nursing Science. 34 (3): 243–259. doi:10.1097/ANS.0b013e31822723a3. PMID 21822072. S2CID 33741565. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
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- Davis, Kelly Cue; Stappenbeck, Cynthia A.; Norris, Jeanette; George, William H.; Jacques-Tiura, Angela J.; Schraufnagel, Trevor J.; Kajumulo, Kelly F. (1 May 2014). "Young Men's Condom Use Resistance Tactics: A Latent Profile Analysis". The Journal of Sex Research. 51 (4): 454–465. doi:10.1080/00224499.2013.776660. ISSN 0022-4499. PMC 3723757. PMID 23548069.
- Bradshaw, Catriona S.; Read, Tim R. H.; Chow, Eric P. F.; Cornelisse, Vincent J.; Fairley, Christopher K.; Vodstrcil, Lenka A.; Latimer, Rosie L. (26 December 2018). "Non-consensual condom removal, reported by patients at a sexual health clinic in Melbourne, Australia". PLOS ONE. 13 (12): e0209779. Bibcode:2018PLoSO..1309779L. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0209779. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 6306234. PMID 30586420.
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- Davis, Kelly Cue; Stappenbeck, Cynthia A.; Masters, N. Tatiana; George, William H. (May 2019). "Young Women's Experiences with Coercive and Noncoercive Condom Use Resistance: Examination of an Understudied Sexual Risk Behavior". Women's Health Issues. 29 (3): 231–237. doi:10.1016/j.whi.2019.01.005. PMC 6578870. PMID 30826133.
- Chesser, Brianna; Zahra, April (22 May 2019). "Stealthing: a criminal offence?". Current Issues in Criminal Justice. Sydney Law School. 31 (2): 217–235. doi:10.1080/10345329.2019.1604474. S2CID 182850828. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
- McVeigh, Sarah (19 May 2017). "Could this be Australia's first stealthing court case?". triple j. Retrieved 21 May 2017.
- ""Is this rape?" The legal grey-area around prosecuting 'stealthing' in Australia". triple j. 2 May 2017. Retrieved 21 May 2017.
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- Felber, Tom (28 November 2019). ""Stealthing", das heimliche Abziehen des Kondoms, ist moralisch "unterste Schublade", aber derzeit nicht strafbar". Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German). Retrieved 28 November 2019.
- "Man Convicted of Rape After Removing Condom During Sex Without Consent". Broadly. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- "CPS Legal Guidance". www.cps.gov.uk. Crown Prosecution Service. Archived from the original on 9 May 2017. Retrieved 24 April 2017.
- Paulina Firozi (10 February 2021). "California could become first state to make it illegal to remove a condom without consent". The Washington Post. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
- Castillo, Monica (6 July 2020). "I May Destroy You Recap: Mic Drop". Vulture. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
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- Episode 5, I May Destroy You (June 22, 2020). BBC/HBO.