State lawmakers in California and Wisconsin recently presented bills to prosecute so-called stealthing as a rape crime or sexual assault. In case you haven’t heard, stealthing is the act of removing a condom or other sexually protective device during sexual intercourse without a partner’s knowledge or consent.
To that end, Democratic State Rep. Melissa Sargent of Wisconsin last month proposed a bill that would make stealthing a sexual assault, while California Democratic State Assembly member Cristina Garcia seeks to expand the definition of rape under California law to include stealthing.
If passed into law the measures would offer women, particularly Black women, much-needed protection under the law.
Unfortunately stealthing is not new. It’s lurked in bedrooms throughout the U.S. for decades, but without any legal recourse for victims. The assumption has always been that if you consented to intercourse with a condom and your partner removed it without permission, then too bad—you already consented to sex. This idea that women or men automatically agree to unprotected sex, simply because they agree to sex, is ludicrous. Wasn’t that the point of the many years of sex education classes we were forced to take in school—to get everyone to make sure that it got wrapped up?
So why push for laws now? Yale Law School graduate Alexandra Brodsky recently published an article that revealed that online groups encourage and teach men how to stealth their sexual partners. The article also detailed the stories of women who felt violated by stealthing, but didn’t know how to name the violation because they had consented to sex. Some women felt like they had been assaulted, some felt like they had been raped, while others didn’t know what to think. Sargent told BuzzFeed News, “We are learning that this is a common thing. A lot of people had felt like it was just them.”
Making stealthing a crime would give victims validation and recourse. It would also paint an accurate picture of sex crimes in the U.S., adding to these troubling statistics. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, RAINN, reports that one person in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds, with an average of 321,500 people a year becoming victims of either rape or sexual assault. A 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report showed that 18.3 percent of women surveyed reported experiencing rape at some point in their lives, while 22 percent of Black women surveyed reported a rape or attempted rape.
Sexual assault and rape are too commonplace, with victims suffering for months and years. RAINN reports that 30 percent of women report PTSD symptoms 9 months after rape, while 33 percent of women rape victims consider suicide. Statistics like these abound.
Passage of the bills is crucial because they underscore exactly why stealthing should be illegal: It is a human rights violation. No one has the right to touch another person’s body sexually without the receiver being able to determine the conditions of that contact. Anything outside of consent constitutes either assault or rape. Case closed. Stealthing isn’t boys being boys. It isn’t even pushing the envelope forward, hoping to not get caught violating an agreed-upon-contract. It’s ripping up said contract and secretly creating a new one, without alerting the other party. Anyone familiar with contract law knows that this “new contract” wouldn’t stand up in a court of law because it’s bogus. It doesn’t have the second party’s signature!
If passed into law, the bills would contribute to the health and safety of African American women and others. The reality is that sexual violence is so rampant in our country that entire TV series depict its grim presence. Now is the time for lawmakers to use the law—not to protect stealthy assailants—but to protect and salve victims. The first step is to admit that stealthing isn’t just morally wrong. It’s criminally wrong.