Jul 30, 2021
A message we have consistently tried to convey on the DLG blog is that sexual consent is always mandatory, and there are no exceptions to that rule under the law. A new piece of legislation – California Assembly Bill 453 (AB-453) – aims to address a specific issue related to consent that has been garnering increased attention: stealthing.
What Does ‘Stealthing’ Mean?
Stealthing is the act of secretive nonconsensual condom removal. When two partners are engaged in sexual intercourse that has only been consented to as condom-protected, removal of the condom at any point without consent constitutes stealthing.
As one stealthing survivor told the BBC in a recent interview, “I didn’t realize it’s rape until it happened to me.”
In 2014, The National Institute of Health published a study on the intentional transmission of HIV by HIV-positive men to their HIV-negative partners. The study used the term ‘gift giving’ to describe the process by which an HIV-positive person purposely infects an HIV-negative person with HIV. The study referenced two types of gift giving: generationing and stealthing.
According to the NIH paper:
In 2015, Monica Tan wrote a column detailing a “sort of” rape incident when her boyfriend removed his condom without consent and ejaculated inside of her during intercourse. Though she did not officially refer to the incident as ‘stealthing,’ the story would later be referred to as such. Tan wrote, “I call what he did ‘rape-like.’ He called it ‘pushing my boundaries.’ You say tomato, I say sexual assault.”
In 2017, Alexandra Brodsky published a landmark paper in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law entitled “Rape-Adjacent”: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal. A doctoral student at the time of the paper’s publication, Brodsky is now a civil rights attorney. She describes her own experience with stealthing as a college freshman in the paper. She also includes interviews with victims of stealthing as well as writings from perpetrators who had provided explanations for their behavior of removing a condom without a partner’s consent through online forums.
As Brodsky notes in the paper, many online forums have actually included tips and “how-to guides” for users to successfully commit acts of stealthing. One such forum, known as The Experience Project, was suspended in 2016.
Brodsky’s paper also explored “whether and how criminal law, tort law, gender violence civil rights actions, and contract law might provide remedy to nonconsensual-condom-removal victims,” while considering possible drawbacks to remedies currently available at law.
As Brodsky notes in her paper, nonconsensual condom removal is a common practice that impacts both men and women – with many victims describing having sex with male partners who removed the condom without their knowledge during intercourse. While some victims realized their partner had removed the condom at the moment of re-penetration, many others did not realize until either the point of ejaculation or (in one case) when the perpetrator notified the victim the following morning.
Stealthing can expose victims to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as unwanted pregnancy. Furthermore, stealthing breaches a partner’s consent, thereby violating and victimizing the individual.
In Brodsky’s paper, many stealthing victims describe having to urgently search for the Plan B contraceptive or make an appointment with a physician for an STI exam.
According to a report by The Guardian, one in three women and one in five men throughout the world have been the victim of stealthing. Those are staggering statistics indicating that the issue of stealthing is pervasive and must be addressed under the law.
No laws currently exist in the United States that explicitly address the issue of stealthing. However, there have been various court verdicts throughout the world that may signal an impending change to America’s laws.
One such case from Germany involved a police officer who was found guilty of sexual assault by stealthing for removing a condom during intercourse without the consent of his partner. In what is believed to be the first case of its kind to be prosecuted in Germany, the defendant was found guilty in December 2018. In addition to receiving an eight-month suspended jail sentence from the court, the offender was fined €3,000 ($3,400) in damages and was forced to pay a €96 fine towards a sexual health test for the female victim.
As CNN reported, the victim told the court she “explicitly requested” that the man wear a condom and gave no consent to sexual intercourse without protection. As with many of the victims from Brodsky’s paper, the German survivor did not realize the man had removed the condom until the point of ejaculation.
In 2016, Germany’s sexual abuse laws were reformed to place greater emphasis on consent when considering sexual assault claims.
Additional worldwide cases related to stealthing include:
Stealthing or nonconsensual condom removal is considered rape under United Kingdom (U.K.) law, but there has only ever been one successful prosecution, which occurred in 2019. That survivor, mentioned above in the BBC interview, discovered she was pregnant after a stealthing incident.
California may become the first state in the U.S. to officially make the act of stealthing illegal. Introduced by California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) in March, AB-453 would consider nonconsensual condom removal or stealthing an act of sexual battery.
Additionally, AB-453 would allow a victim to pursue a claim for emotional and physical damages under the state’s civil code. Under AB-453, the civil code would actually be amended to state that an individual commits sexual battery if the person “causes 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.”
Upon the bill’s introduction, Garcia stated via a press release that she had been working on the issue of stealthing since 2017 and “won’t stop until there is some accountability for those who perpetrate the act.”
Garcia also referenced the popular HBO series, “I May Destroy You,” which includes a storyline examining stealthing and sexual consent.
Garcia isn’t the only American politician pushing to make stealthing illegal. In Colorado, State Senator Rhonda Fields expressed support for stealthing laws in a 2017 interview with a local FOX 5 affiliate.
“Absolutely, it is assault – it is rape,” Fields said. “If a woman says to you, ‘Wear a condom,’ then a man has no right to change the rules.”
In the same report, Amy Pohl of the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence stated that stealthing is “much more common than people would think.” Pohl also referenced the difficulty stealthing victims face when pursuing any sort of justice under the law.
“Victims of sexual violence, victims of rape, have a pretty difficult time moving their case through the criminal justice system as the law is right now,” Pohl said to FOX 5.
Under AB-453, survivors of stealthing would be able to pursue financial compensation against a perpetrator through a civil lawsuit. The bill is currently under consideration before California’s lawmakers.
Although there are no official laws prohibiting the act of stealthing under the criminal or civil codes, survivors may be able to recover financial compensation through civil claims (also known as personal injury or tort lawsuits).
At Dordulian Law Group (DLG), we believe that stealthing is, as Alexandra Brodsky wrote, “rape-adjacent” and therefore akin to the crime of rape. Accordingly, it should be treated as sexual battery under the law.
As mentioned earlier, sex always requires consent. If you have been the victim of stealthing, contact our experienced Sex Crimes Division today to discuss your options under the law. DLG was founded and is led by a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County who successfully obtained life sentences against some of our community’s most dangerous sexual predators. Sam Dordulian has devoted his career to securing justice for sexual assault survivors. With over 100 jury trial victories, Dordulian offers survivors a level of experience that simply can’t be matched at most other firms.
In his years as a Deputy D.A. and sex crimes prosecutor, Dordulian saw first-hand how survivors of sexual assault often require additional resources and support beyond legal expertise at various points throughout the litigation process. Accordingly, when he founded his own private practice – DLG – Dordulian established a four-tiered SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts) within the Sex Crimes Division to offer survivors an all-encompassing 24/7 support network.
With DLG, survivors have an experienced and dedicated litigator in Sam Dordulian, but they also have access to added resources, including:
With DLG, stealthing survivors are supported and represented by all four tiers of the SAJE Team. And our dedication to each and every client is highlighted by both our experience and proven results:
Contact a member of our SAJE Team today online or by phone at 818-322-4056. At DLG, we believe and support survivors. We’ll to listen to your claim, launch a thorough investigation, and develop a precise legal strategy based on our years of experience and past success.
If you’ve been the victim of stealthing, contact the sexual assault experts at DLG for a free consultation. When you’re ready to take the step towards securing justice, we’re here to fight as your dedicated advocate to recover the maximum financial compensation you deserve.
Our law firm in Glendale, CA advocates for victims of sexual assault, injury, employment disputes, and personal injury concerns.