Stealthing is the non-consensual removal of a condom. The ban allows victims to sue their perpetrators under the presumption that sexual battery had been commited. 

Landmark Bill 453

This bill makes the removal of a condom without explicit verbal consent illegal. It states that an action is seen as sexual battery when a person:

‘Causes contact between an intimate part of the person and a sexual organ of another from which the person removed a condom without verbal consent’.

Under the new law, a court would be able to award an injunction, financial compensation to the victim, or ‘any other relief the court deems proper’.

The step is a necessary development in sexual assault law. A 2019 study found that 12 per cent of women have been victims of stealthing, while nearly 10 per cent of men openly admit to doing it. Before the bill came into force, the removal of a condom during initially consensual sex was seen as being somewhat of a grey area. Some men, at worst, saw it as immoral. The new law states in black and white; stealthing is not just immoral, it is illegal. 

‘Consent’ Through Deception

In the UK stealthing is a crime. Despite this, only one case has been prosecuted in court.

So what exactly makes stealthing illegal?

Firstly, consent is conditional. In almost any context, it is difficult to think of a scenario in which someone would continue to consent to something if the key variables were changed. In this case, the difference between protected and unprotected sex is vast. The risk of pregnancy and catching an STI remains the biggest concern for women who are left to carry the burden.

But there is also the moral argument. A woman who has not given her consent to the potential mental and physical consequences of having unprotected sex is a woman who has been wronged. If unbeknownst to her the man makes a decision for both parties, he robs her of the opportunity to say no through deception. By any legal or moral standards that cannot be allowed. 

Facing the Consequences 

A zero-tolerance policy to all non-consensual sexual acts must be adopted. Stealthing is no exception. It may not seem like sexual assault in the traditional sense, but that does not make it any less reprehensible. This is especially important when considering the fact that men with higher levels of hostility and a history of severe sexual aggression towards women are significantly more likely to engage in stealthing. Perpetrators of this act differ little from those who commit more standard forms of sexual assault. The key characteristics include selfishness, aggression, and a tendency to maliciously disrespect women. 

it’s high time men paid for their arrogant disregard towards a woman’s bodily autonomy. One victim of stealthing described how she didn’t even realise she was a victim until she had read a BBC article about the phenomenon. She subsequently spoke of her experience as ‘a violation’. 

Stricter Abortion Laws Add Insult to Injury 

California remains the first and only US state to outlaw the practice of stealthing. Countless women, therefore, continue to remain exposed and vulnerable.

Men with a history of stealthing have been found to be more likely to have had an STI and a partner who experienced unwanted pregnancy. To make matters worse, the recent six-week abortion ban in Texas limits a woman’s sphere of choice when it comes to unwanted pregnancy.

In many ways, it seems counterintuitive for America, a country with increasingly tighter abortion laws, to allow the non-consensual removal of contraception to remain legal if the aim is to reduce the number of abortions.

California must set a precedent of protecting women from the consequences of what is essentially a failure of the legal system. If the other states don’t follow suit, then the message is crystal clear; this is not about reducing abortions, it’s about controlling women.

Men cannot be allowed to change the terms of a sexual encounter without consent. Yet this is exactly what America’s laws permit. The increasingly contradictory and frankly oppressive abortion laws (especially prevalent in the Southern Bible Belt region of America), leave women with limited options. This becomes even more traumatic for the victims of rape.

California’s bill is certainly most welcome, but we must remember that for women’s rights in America it continues to be a case of one step forward, two steps back. 

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