News & Opinion | September 9, 2021 10:28 am

California Moves to Outlaw “Stealthing,” Or Removing a Condom During Sex

How is this not already illegal everywhere?

White condom rests against blue background. California is moving to outlaw "stealthing," or removing a condom during sex without consent.
Stealthing is a form of sexual violence.
Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

One of the few good things the internet has done for society is make it easier to come up with new words for common shared experiences for which we previously lacked vocabulary — often because we’ve also previously lacked a platform on which to address these experiences with like-minded individuals. A few years ago, the term “stealthing” went viral when women of the internet used that platform to finally give a name to a behavior men have probably been enacting for as long as there have been condoms: taking them off during sex without the knowledge and/or consent of their partner(s).

The term “stealthing” made headlines as a back in 2017, thanks in part to a report from that year claiming the act was on the rise. While some outlets referred to stealthing as a “disturbing sex trend,” others argued the name failed to acknowledge the act for what it really was: sexual assault.

Now, California lawmakers are hoping to remove any such ambiguity by explicitly outlawing the behavior. Per the Associated Press, legislators reportedly sent Governor Gavin Newsom a bill on Tuesday adding the act to the state’s civil definition of sexual battery, making it illegal to remove a condom without obtaining verbal consent. The move would not change the criminal code, but would rather amend the civil code so that a victim could sue the perpetrator for damages, including punitive damages.

Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia has been pushing for the legislation since 2017, with an original bill that sought to make stealthing a crime. Legislative analysts at the time said that the behavior could already be considered misdemeanor sexual battery, essentially pointing out what many others have argued: stealthing is already a crime because it is rape, which is a crime.

Unfortunately, as legislative analysts noted, even though stealthing could already be considered a form of sexual battery punishable by law, it is rarely prosecuted. This is in part, according to AP, “because of the difficulty in proving that a perpetrator acted intentionally instead of accidentally,” but also, one might argue, due to many of the same reasons other forms of rape and sexual violence rarely see justice. We know that many victims of sexual assault struggle to come forward, if they ever do at all, often out of fears they won’t be believed or will be blamed for their own assault. Those fears would obviously be magnified if there is disagreement over whether the act in question even constitutes a form of sexual violence or is, simply, “a disturbing sex trend.”

“It’s disgusting that there are online communities that defend and encourage stealthing and give advice on how to get away with removing the condom without the consent of their partner, but there is nothing in law that makes it clear that this is a crime,” Garcia said in a statement.

To be fair, the fact that stealthing is rape and rape is illegal seems like something we shouldn’t have to spell out so explicitly. Unfortunately, that is clearly not the society in which we live.