‘Stealthing’: California poised to outlaw removing condom without consent during sex

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<span>Photograph: Image Source/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Image Source/Getty Images

California is expected to outlaw “stealthing”, becoming the first state to make it illegal to remove a condom without verbal consent during sex.

Legislators have sent a bill to the state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, that would add the act to California’s civil definition of sexual battery. The bill would amend the civil code, allowing victims to sue perpetrators for damages, but would not change the criminal code to make it a crime that would send perpetrators to jail.

New York and Wisconsin lawmakers have proposed related legislation, but California would be the first state to make stealthing illegal, said the assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who has been advocating for similar legislation since 2017.

“It makes it clear that ‘stealthing’ or removing a condom [without] permission isn’t just immoral, but it’s illegal,” Garcia said on Twitter.

Globally, one in three women and one in five men have been victims of stealthing, according to a 2018 study. A 2019 paper found that 12% of women ages 21 to 30 reported they had a partner engage in stealthing while a 2017 Yale University study found that act was on the rise against women and gay men.

Garcia has been working on similar legislation for years. In 2017, she put forward a proposal that sought to make stealthing a crime, and would have allowed prosecutors to seek jail time for perpetrators. But analysts said the act, even if not specifically referenced in criminal code, could already be considered misdemeanor sexual battery, and that bill did not pass. The current bill focuses on amending the civil code to recognize stealthing as sexual battery.

Stealthing is rarely prosecuted, analysts said, because of the challenges of proving that a perpetrator acted intentionally. Garcia has said the act can cause long-term physical and emotional harm for victims.

Lawmakers unanimously backed the bill, which awaits Newsom’s signature. It also has the support of the Erotic Service Providers Legal Educational Research Project, a legal advocacy group, which said it could allow sex workers to sue clients who remove condoms during otherwise consensual sex.

The state senate has also moved forward this week with a bill to treat the rape of a spouse the same way as the rape of a non-spouse, by removing an exemption to the rape law if the victim is married to the perpetrator. California is one of 11 states that still distinguish between spousal rape and other forms of sexual assault.

Those convicted of spousal rape currently can be eligible for probation instead of prison or jail, although there is no difference in the maximum penalties. Those convicted of spousal rape also must register as sex offenders, but only if the act involved violence and the perpetrator was sentenced to state prison. That bill will return to the assembly for a final vote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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