You may have come across the news this week that the ACT Legislative Assembly will consider introducing a new offence for the act of stealthing.
As the ABC reports, the bill that was introduced by Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee “is about making our laws clearer, our community safer, and making our voice loud and clear that no means no”.
It is being proposed that current consent provisions under the Crimes Act be updated to specify that consent is compromised when the act of stealthing is committed, the ABC shares.
But what is stealthing?
In essence, this is the term used when a man, or person with a penis, enters into consensual sex with a partner and after having agreed to wear a condom, removes it without the other person’s permission.
The condom is removed either immediately before or during sex, risking either pregnancy, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases or both.
A study completed by Monash University in 2018 found that a third of women and one-fifth of men who sleep with men (in a group of over 6,000 people) had experienced stealthing.
The term stealthing entered into pubic consciousness in 2018 when the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law released a paper on the issue, calling it “rape-adjacent”.
The act became more widely discussed after it appeared in HBO series I May Destroy You, but legal definitions around rape and consent have long made the identification of stealthing as an offence murky in Australia.
Why should it be criminalised?
On her proposed bill, Lee shared that stealthing “completely erodes the trust that a person can put in someone during the most vulnerable of moments”.
“It is a violation of dignity and autonomy.”
But more than that, it clearly negates any pre-established consent. Lina Howlett, a NSW sex crimes squad commander, spoke with The Conversation about the need to attain “fresh consent” when the conditions of your sexual encounter change.
“…sex turns into assault when consent is not given or [is] withdrawn, e.g. they are having consensual sex and one party becomes aware that the condom was removed and tells the partner to stop and the partner continues,” she said.
In her statements on the proposed bill, Lee spoke to the significant physical and psychological damage stealthing imposes on its victims. Studies, and the accounts of victims themselves, have clearly indicated that the violent act is connected to experiences of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
As the ABC has shared, Dr Sumayya Ebrahim revealed in her 2019 paper on stealthing that the reasons men cited for assaulting sexual partners this way included “[sex] feels better without a condom”, the “thrill of degradation”, and a desire to “spread their seed”.
The ABC writes that Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said, “Put simply, stealthing is rape.”
“It is important that we have [a] society-wide culture that understands and promotes sexual safety and consent.”