Let’s get one thing straight: stealthing is sexual assault.
You could be forgiven for not knowing what stealthing is, except that is part of the problem. Recently the HuffPost claimed stealthing was a ‘new sex practice’, but since then people all over the world have been coming forward and telling their stories, implying there is nothing new going on here. We are just finally talking about it.
The term itself is fairly new and the internet has been quick to inject the phrase into the online lexicon. But in case you’re still not familiar with it allow me to summarise:
Stealthing is the act whereby one party removes the condom during sex without the other party’s knowledge or consent. Gross, right?
The recent surge of online debate over stealthing began when Alexandra Brodsky of Yale Law School posted a study suggesting that the trend was on the rise in the US and calling for new laws to concretely safeguard victims.
In recent years, courts from all over the world have found stealthing to be a clear breach of bodily integrity and a non-consensual sexual act. Bills have been introduced in the US to criminalise it in California and Wisconsin, and a similar piece of legislation is under consideration in the UK.
Now that you know what stealthing means you’re probably thinking ‘Oh, I’ve heard stories about that. Hasn’t that been going on for ages?’ And the sad truth is yes, it probably has. The development of sexual assault and other crimes of a sexual nature, as they are defined under the law, has been painstakingly slow. Some parts of Australia had no laws against marital rape until 1987, and we only managed to introduce legislation criminalising image-based abuse, commonly referred to as ‘revenge porn’ this year. We’ve been well behind the game.
This slow progress can also be seen in stealthing. There have been no cases of stealthing brought before the courts in Australia, and no legislation specifically mentions the ramifications if protection is removed during intercourse without both parties consenting. I can understand the law being slow if it is catching up with technology, but condoms aren’t exactly the latest and greatest in contraception. So what’s the deal?
If I were a betting woman – and I’m not, but if I were – I would guess that the reason there has been no action in this area of law is because nobody is reporting it. Like most issues with sexual assault, it all comes down to whether the victims step forward. And as usual this comes with a whole other mix of problems, from not understanding that what happened was ‘assault’, to not wanting to get a friend or loved one in trouble. One account online of a victim of stealthing also noted that the police did not take her matter seriously when she gave her statement. Sound familiar?
Time and time again victims of sexual assault are having to fight against this overriding theme that consent is not as important as pleasure. Allegations of rape always contain questions over whether the victim was ‘asking for it’ or whether the victim simply regretted it the next day. Sex is fun, sex is pleasurable, people love to have sex! So victims are asked if they are sure they didn’t consent, and if they are sure it was rape. Because to some people any sex is still sex.
Stealthing is the ultimate example of this. Offenders remove the condom, most typically because they can experience more pleasure without it, be it from the physical experience or the feeling of degrading the other party. And in exchange for this pleasure is the consent of the victim, who has no idea that the terms upon which they agreed to have intercourse have been rewritten.
Imagine sex like a contract. Both parties put forward their terms. Lights off. Reciprocal orgasms. But most importantly: a condom. Then during the execution of the contract the terms are changed. And not just any term, but one of the big ones. One of the terms that protects a party’s physical autonomy – the term that protects them from falling pregnant or potentially contracting an STI. That shield is literally taken away.
If you agreed to enter a boxing match on the condition you wear protective gear, wouldn’t you be angry if half way through the match they took your helmet away and continued to punch you?
So while Australian law remains silent on stealthing, it is important that victims don’t. Men, women and non-binary victims who have had their bodily integrity compromised by the selfishness of another. People who have been violated and assaulted by offenders who have consistently gone unpunished.
Stealthing is not a prank. It is not a joke. There is nothing funny about sexual assault.
And as far as I’m concerned that’s all stealthing is: sexual assault. And the sooner we stop trying to divert the conversation about sex-based crimes with discussions centered around pleasure, the better.
Featured Image: Encouraging Life Organisation which provides services on ‘reproductive, sexual health and comprehensive sex education’