California Set to Classify “Stealthing” as Sexual Battery

California Set to Classify “Stealthing” as Sexual BatteryState legislators sent a bill to Governor Newson’s desk on September 7 that would make the act of “stealthing” punishable under the law, setting the stage for California to be the first in the nation to pass such a law. Stealthing is the act of secretive and nonconsensual condom removal during the act of sexual intercourse. Although lawmakers introduced similar legislation in the past, only now has a bill made it through the House for the Governor’s approval.

The bill, AB 453, was first introduced back in April by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia. It passed on the Assembly Floor with 73 affirmative and zero “no” votes. Under the text of the bill, a person commits sexual battery if they cause “contact between an intimate part of the person and a sexual organ of another from which the person removed a condom without verbal consent.”

AB 453 is an amendment to California’s existing sexual battery and assault law, explicitly addressing the issue of stealthing and nonconsensual condom removal. If the bill passes, victims of stealthing will now have the right to file a claim against their assaulter for damages and losses in civil court. Making stealthing a crime punishable under civil code puts a much lower burden of proof on plaintiffs.

Chloe Neely, a victims’ rights attorney, told the Washington Post that cases involving consent are “incredibly difficult to prove from a legal perspective. It’s difficult for a jury to understand that consent is fluid and not a rigid on-off switch.” This new bill puts more power in the hands of the victim.

What is stealthing?

One in three women and one in five men have been the victim of stealthing – when a condom is removed in a nonconsensual manner during sex. However, no laws currently exist in the United States that address or criminalize this issue directly. Assemblymember Garcia introduced her first stealthing bill in 2017, when then-Yale law student Alexandra Brodsky published a shocking paper about the practice.

In her paper, Brodsky tells the stories of “Rebecca” and many other individuals who experienced nonconsensual condom removal, both men and women. One excerpt from her paper reads:

Assailants’ narratives underscore the ties between so-called “stealthing” and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence like rape. Internet forums provide not only accounts from victims but encouragement from perpetrators. Promoters provide advice, along with explicit descriptions, for how to successfully trick a partner and remove a condom during sex. “Stealthing is controversial,” writes Mark Bentson, who runs a website dedicated to teaching others how to trick their sexual partners into condom-less sex. “But it’s also a reality. If you want to do it, you need to know how.”

Brodsky also wrote about the violations experienced by victims of stealthing; from worries about unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), to physical and emotional trauma.

In a statement about her legislation, Garcia said, “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.”

Why stealthing should be treated as sexual assault

Any nonconsensual sexual act is assault, and should be treated as such. If you ever have a question as to whether or not you may have been sexually assaulted, talk to a trained and compassionate professional (like RAINN) or an experienced attorney for guidance. For now, here’s some more information about stealthing and why it is, indeed, a violation of your rights.

Stealthing was a little-known dating “trend” until a few years ago, when Brodsky’s paper brought it into the spotlight. It still remains a gray area to many victims, as for some, stealthing begins as a consensual sexual act. However, nonconsensual condom removal is just that – nonconsensual, which is both violating and dangerous to the victim. Some experts call this a violation of informed consent.

Currently, no United States court has prosecuted stealthing as an act of sexual assault, but with the passage of AB 453 victims may find an avenue for justice.

“Stealthing” gets its name from its deceptive nature, but you can take some steps to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Before engaging in consensual sexual activity, set your boundaries (i.e. make it clear you are agreeing only to sex with a condom)
  • Provide your own condoms to ensure they’re not tampered with
  • Check during intercourse that the condom is still on
  • Be open and straightforward with your partner about condom use throughout any sexual encounter

If you were or believe you were stealthed, seek medical attention as soon as possible to mitigate the risk of STIs and/or pregnancy. You should also contact a local rape crisis center to gather physical evidence if you intend to press charges, and then an attorney who can guide you on your next steps. Remember, you are not alone.

The Los Angeles attorneys at Taylor & Ring provide compassionate representation for survivors of sexual abuse and assault. We want to help you hold your perpetrator accountable. Talk to us today. To schedule a free consultation, call our office at 310-776-6390, or complete our contact form.