It's often not easy to hold people accountable for sex crimes: They are difficult to prove, and sometimes victims are not taken seriously or believed when they come forward with accusations. It's even more difficult when the act isn't considered criminal. That's why it's a big deal that several lawmakers have proposed bills to classify "stealthing" as sexual assault.
The term "stealthing" came into the public discussion earlier this year when Alexandra Brodsky published a paper in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law about the troubling act and detailed how stealthing could be prosecuted. Stealthing occurs when one party secretly removes a contraception device during sex. In most cases, the device is a condom. Removal without permission can result in STD infection or even pregnancy. Right now in the U.S., there is no criminal punishment for the act.
Two legislators, in Wisconsin and California, have introduced legislation that would change this. Rep. Melissa Sargent has proposed a bill that would modify Wisconsin's definition of consent to include the conditional use of protection. The punishment for violation of consent according to the bill was not yet determined. Meanwhile, Rep. Cristina Garcia introduced a bill to expand California's definition of rape to include secretly tampering with a protective device. The bills will hopefully address what is a coming to light as a widespread problem that was seldom previously discussed.
While stealthing is largely talked about as a man removing a condom without a woman's knowledge, the legislation would also be applicable to a woman if she removed her birth control without telling her partner. Not only can stealthing lead to STDs and pregnancy, but it also is a disturbing violation of a consensual sex encounter.
Since Brodsky's article was published and the discussion of stealthing was brought into the open, women have come forward with their own experiences as victims of stealthing. Some felt violated by the act without really feeling like they could call it sexual assault. However, by classifying it as such, it may help victims to heal from a traumatic sexual assault.
Now that stealthing is being acknowledged, there is an opportunity for action. Hopefully these two bills will pass, and they will encourage other lawmakers to come forward with similar bills of their own.
Switzerland has already convicted a man of rape for removing a condom during sex without his partner's consent, and the U.S. could follow in their footsteps to stand up against the practice. Sexual assault is something that we can refuse to tolerate, and these bills are just the first step in the right direction for the handling of stealthing cases.