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Stealthing is the act of removing a condom during intercourse without the consent or knowledge of your sexual partner. This act is nothing new; however, the phenomenon has launched to public light in view of recent events. California has become the first state, as of Oct. 7, to instate a law against this act, considering it a civil sexual battery offense. Due to the obscure nature of stealthing and the confusion surrounding its repercussions, there has been a severe lack of reporting and conversation. The immoral act has been brought up in criminal context in other states wanting to make it illegal, but the amendment for this has been proposed to no avail. The law often snails behind societal trends, meaning that laws that are necessary for our changing times take a long time to be implemented. While California is the first to make stealthing a prosecutable offence, there is a push to bring the rest of the states up to speed.

Right now, the Istanbul Convention treaty is bringing violence against women, including all non-consensual sexual acts, into the framework of human rights. The goal of this convention is to bring attention to the inequality in gender violence. While the #MeToo movement has become prevalent over the years, there is still a stigma in reporting sexual assault and pursuing justice. Some of this can be attributed to the grey area of labeling rape and sexual assault. Because of the societal shame women often feel in providing evidence of assaults, there is a lot of second guessing in the legality or moral dubiousness of stealthing. Women who are victims are speaking out and sharing their stories and unease with the experience of stealthing. One woman shared that she did not realize until after her sexual encounter that her partner had removed the condom. This experience led to unwanted pregnancy and later termination. She felt angry, especially after her partner did not reciprocate and sympathize with the resulting emotional trauma. While not all of these encounters end in pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, there is still the paramount topic at hand: consent. 

The trouble many women have with labeling stealthing as rape or assault is the societally weighted phrase, “others have it worse,” in order to push voices to the side. There is a fear of muddling the voices of women who have had relatively harder experiences. The same fear is echoed by the stereotypical expectation that women are, in nature, overreactive. While we logically can agree that this stereotype is outdated and ridiculous — the unease is ingrained in the mind during girlhood from the responses of adults to emotion and/or the expectation of maturity from a young age. 

The underreporting of stealthing is not just ignorance of the law and rights, but the blinding inability to decide if the action was enough to report. If something happens during a sexual encounter that one partner did not consent to, resulting in a feeling of betrayal or unease, the act is sexual assault or rape. The line is hard to draw when the pressures of stigma and disregarding authorities make an impact on a decision to report. However, our autonomy and our bodies belong to us, and the act of saying “that was not okay” is an important distinction to make. Your body is yours, and while that is not a groundbreaking statement, many women still have trouble with defining what sexual assault is on a personal level.

A reason the coverage has felt considerably lacking on the subject of stealthing is its history of prosecution. A survey conducted in a sexual health clinic in Melbourne, Australia reveals 32% of the women experienced stealthing, yet there is only one successful prosecution of stealthing accounted for in Australia’s history. The sponsor of the legislation against stealthing in California, Cristina Garcia, backs up her reasoning with a paper she cited in her bill by Alexandra Brodsky called ‘Rape-Adjacent’: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal. To many, including Garcia, the offense was common sense. She was quoted by National Public Radio saying, “For a majority of the people, it’s like, ‘Yeah, it makes sense that this is immoral and it should be illegal.’”  It is critical we transcribe these trends into writing. As immoral as stealthing is, there will always be those who push boundaries. One net of safety we can assure is the implementation of these transgressions into law. 

Every necessary action can be taken, but these crimes can happen to anyone — that is why it is crucial to be aware of the actions that educate the public on consent. UCR has taken steps to assure the student body of resources and precautions. Emails were sent out on Oct. 19 that provide some information on how to react to sexual assault or battery. UCR offers escort services to your car to help alleviate the fear of being approached by unwanted persons. There is also extensive and mandatory Title IX training done by both the students and the staff that can help prevent sexual violence and protect those who experience it.