Recently in the media and across all levels of Australian society significant conversations have opened up about consent and rape culture. The petition to lower the age that consent is taught in schools and the numerous sexual assault allegations that have come to light this year all the way from Parliament House to high schools has put sexual assault and consent on the national agenda, finally.
Sexual assault occurs when a person is forced, coerced or tricked into sexual acts against their will or without their informed consent. Informed consent constitutes someone freely agreeing to something with nothing stopping them from giving consent or understanding what they are consenting to.
What is Stealthing?
You’ve probably heard of it and now it has a label. Stealthing is the intentional, non-consensual removal or damaging of a condom during sex. It has been described as rape adjacent and is considered by many legal and sexual violence experts as sexual assault or rape because there is no consent. Currently there are no clear criminal laws identifying stealthing as a sexual offence.
However, there have been some promising developments to criminalise stealthing. Most recently, the ACT Legislative Assembly is considering introducing a new offence for the act of stealthing under the Crimes Act. This recent development follows the rape conviction of a man in New Zealand earlier this month after he removed a condom during sex without his partner’s consent. This conviction has set a new legal precedent in New Zealand which the ACT is trying to implement here. Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee, who introduced the bill to criminalise stealthing in the ACT, has said that it’s “about making our laws clearer, our community safer, and making our voice loud and clear that no means no”.
In the Australian context a man was charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of rape by Victoria Police for stealthing in 2018. He is awaiting trial, a trial which could also help set a new legal precedent for cases of stealthing. Dr Brianna Chesser, a senior lecturer in criminology and justice at RMIT University and registered psychologist, points to the fact that this is the first case of non-consensual condom removal that has ever made it to court in Australia and will provide an important foundation for further development of the law around stealthing.
"Hopefully the judgement in this [Australian] case will make some comment on stealthing, and ideally this will add to community awareness, and see it added to legislation."
Stealthing is more common than you might think. A 2018 Monash University study found that one in three women and one in five men in Australia have reported being stealthed. Stealthing poses a number of psychological and physical risks, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unplanned pregnancies, depression, anxiety, and in some cases post-traumatic stress disorder. Stealthing is a violation of a person’s dignity, agency, autonomy and reproductive freedom.
"stealthing is the non consensual removal or damaging of a condom during sex"
Why do men stealth?
Ali Howarth, a program specialist at 1800RESPECT, explained that men who stealth see their victims as possessions rather than people who have a right to make their own consensual decisions about sex. There are several online forums dedicated to teaching men how to stealth, sharing stealthing stories, as well as providing encouragement and praise for men who stealth. In her 2019 research paper Dr Sumayya Ebrahim, academic and gynaecologist, explores these online forums and the misogyny and hegemonic power of masculinity that is embedded in the idea of stealthing. Dr Ebrahim recounts the reasons discussed by these men for stealthing: the pursuit of sexual pleasure, the “thrill of degradation”, the belief that they have the right to “spread their seed” and it “feels better with no condom on”. Dr Ebrahim says these reasons are reflective of the dismissive attitudes that stealthers have towards their partners and of stealthers prioritising their own sexual gratification at the expense of their own health and their partner’s health, rights and wishes.
Open discussions and growing awareness around stealthing is important and will help survivors recognise and process the trauma associated with their experience/s. Stealthing is not okay and is a clear violate of someone’s rights.
If this has happened to you please reach out of your local sexual support services, tell someone you trust or you can also contact your local police station if you wish to report the incident.
Consent, safely and mutual enjoyment always comes first. If you’re using condoms use ones that are good for you, the environment, triple tested for safety and easy to use!
If you need help:
National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line – 1800 737 732
1800 Respect National Helpline – 1800 737 732
Lifeline 24 Hour Crisis Line – 131 114
Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
NSW Child Protection Helpline – 132 111