Proposed Federal Law Prohibits Nonconsensual Condom Removal: ‘A Dangerous Form of Sexual Assault’

One in three women and one in five men have experienced stealthing—the removing of a condom during sex without verbal consent from a partner.

An attendee at SlutWalk in Washington, D.C., in August 2012. (Ben Schumin / Flickr)

Legislation introduced last week would create a new federal civil rights violation of “condom stealthing”—the removing of a condom during sex without verbal consent from a partner, which forces someone to have unprotected sex without their consent. Introduced by U.S. Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), the proposed law recognizes the right to sexual self-determination including the right to choose what conditions are placed on consent to sex.

“Stealthing is a grave violation of autonomy, dignity and trust that is considered emotional and sexual abuse,” said Maloney. “Congress has an obligation to address stealthing at the federal level and allow survivors to hold those that have stealthed them accountable. Stealthing is a horrific act of sexual violence and must be put to an end.”

“Stealthing or nonconsensual condom removal is a violation of trust and dignity and a dangerous form of sexual assault,” said Khanna. “We need to do more to protect victims.”

Maloney, Torres and Khanna have introduced two bills:

  • The Stealthing Act of 2022 would create a federal civil right of action for survivors of nonconsensual condom removal.
  • The Consent is Key Act would encourage states to voluntarily pass laws authorizing civil damages for survivors of nonconsensual condom removal by increasing funding levels for federal domestic violence prevention programs in states that pass these laws.

“Consent is key, it is that simple,” said Torres. “Nonconsensual condom removal is sexual violence that can have lifelong consequences, and survivors of such violence deserve to have their voices heard, and deserve justice. This legislation will ensure survivors can turn to the courts for relief and will boost federal domestic violence programs to help as many survivors as possible. Everyone deserves to have their autonomy respected.”

Both pieces of legislation were inspired by a California law passed last October, making it a civil sexual battery offense for someone to remove a condom during sex without verbal consent from their partner. The law allows victims of stealthing to sue their perpetrators for damages and relief. California was the first state to pass a law against condom stealthing.

In a 2017 Yale study, civil rights attorney Alexandra Brodsky interviewed both male and female survivors of stealthing, which she describes as a “grave violation of dignity and autonomy” and a “disempowering, demeaning violation of a sexual agreement.” One young woman told her partner a condom was non-negotiable and that she would leave if he would rather not use one. He agreed, but then secretly removed the condom during sex.

Survivors of stealthing experienced mental trauma as well as fears of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. A 2019 survey on stealthing found that “men who had a history of nonconsensual condom removal were significantly more likely to have had a sexually transmitted infection diagnosis (29.5 percent vs. 15.1 percent) or have had a partner who experienced an unplanned pregnancy (46.7 percent vs. 25.8 percent).”

The survey also found that men who engaged in stealthing had greater hostility for women and misogynist disdain toward them.

Condom stealthing has received increased attention in recent years. According to a 2018 Australian study, one in three women and one in five men have experienced stealthing. Another study found that 12 percent of women ages 21 to 30 reported they had a partner engage in stealthing. Sexual assault allegations against Julian Assange included charges that he tampered with a condom during sex. And Michaela Coel’s recent series I May Destroy You portrayed stealthing as about dominance and power.

Several countries across the world have criminalized stealthing, including Switzerland, Canada, Germany and Australia. In April of last year, New Zealand prosecutors won their first successful stealthing prosecution in a case against a man who agreed to use a condom with a sex worker, then removed it during sex.

“Stealthing is a horrific act that is too common within this country. The act of stealthing is disrespecting someone’s trust, placing that person at risk for unwanted pregnancies and STDs,” said Samantha Cadet, director of federal affairs for RAINN. “These pieces of legislation will address stealthing as a violation of personal autonomy and deserving of legal recognition.”

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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.