Warning: This article on stealthing deals with the topic of sexual assault. It may be triggering for some. If you or someone you love is in need of support, please contact 1800 RESPECT or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
You may have come across the news in recent months that states like Queensland and South Australia will be criminalising the act of stealthing under new changes to sexual violence laws.
As the ABC reports, the states join NSW, Victoria, the ACT and Tasmania – each of which has also made the act of stealthing illegal. This update follows news that stealthing will soon come with a maximum sentence of life in prison for guilty perpetrators.
But what is stealthing?
In essence, this is the term used when a man, or a 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 or knowledge.
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 have sex 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 the HBO series I May Destroy You, but legal definitions around rape and consent have previously made the identification of stealthing as an offence murky in Australia.
Why should it be criminalised?
Back in April 2021, when the discussion around ACT changing laws on stealthing emerged, Canberra Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee shared that the act “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,” she said.
But more than that, stealthing 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“…sex turns into assault when consent is not given or [is] withdrawn, e.g. they are having consensual sex and one party becomes aware that the condom was removed and tells the partner to stop and the partner continues,” she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 (at the time), 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 stealthing is connected to experiences of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The ABC wrote at the time 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.”
This article has been updated since its original publish date.
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