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US lawmakers want 'stealthing' classified as rape

October 5, 2017
In The News

Two US lawmakers are pushing for Congress to classify “stealthing” – the act of secretly removing a condom during sex – as rape.

The practice, which transforms a consensual act into a non-consensual one, puts the partner at risk of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. The phenomenon has gained increasing attention in recent months as growing numbers of women have spoken out about their experiences.

Democratic Representatives Ro Khanna, who is from California, and Carolyn Maloney, from New York, sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday asking its members to address the problem. The lawmakers argued a hearing on the subject matter would mean members of Congress became better informed about the issue.

“Consent is not up for discussion, it is a requirement for the entirety of any sexual interaction. Stealthing violates an agreement between partners and is a dangerous form of sexual assault,” Mr. Khanna said in a statement.

“The implications of the practice of non-consensual condom removal are far-reaching with respect to the ongoing national conversation on the definition of consensual sex.”

The representatives say the “disgraceful” practice can inflict psychological harm on its victims and argue it needs to be seen as a "violation of trust and dignity between two sexual partners and acknowledged when developing policies to stop sexual assault and rape."

"Recent legal and academic articles have considered how nonconsensual condom removal could, in fact, turn consensual sex into nonconsensual sex by way of different legal mechanisms," they said in the letter.

Nevertheless, it continues to be an act which does not fit easily into legal frameworks and definitions of rape and sexual assault.

"I am horrified that we even need to be having this conversation, that a sexual partner would violate their partner's trust and consent like this. Stealthing is sexual assault," Ms Maloney said in a further statement. "We need a hearing so that Congress can hear from the experts about how to best address this issue as we continue to amend our country's and universities' responses to sexual assault and rape."

The practice gained national attention after Yale Law School graduate Alexandra Brodsky published a study about how online groups are perpetuating the act back in April. Her research led her to stumble upon online communities of men discussing how to get away with stealthing and swapping tips. 

Ms Brodsky has since explained that she chose to embark on the research back in law school in 2013 when she became aware of how many of her friends were struggling with mistreatment by sexual partners which were not deemed to be part of the familiar accepted gamut of gender-based violence. She argues stealthing is "rape-adjacent" and demands specific laws for condom removal to be introduced.

Since the article, rape crisis organisations have come forward to support her views and argue it is a sex crime. 

In May, lawmakers in Wisconsin and California introduced bills to change the definition of consent and rape to include interfering with a sexually protective device without informing the other person.