It sounds like your average kind of dating term, joining the likes of ghosting and bread crumbing to suggest the myriad of ways relationships are brought to a close in the modern age. But the fact is stealthing is far more serious and damaging than the name alone suggests. It refers to the act of sneakily removing a condom during sex, an action that not only revokes someone’s consent, but is also criminal. Now, the ACT government is looking to make stealthing a recognised crime.
You might have become familiar with the term through the critically acclaimed I May Destroy You from Michaela Coel. As most of us bunkered down in front of the TV during lockdown, the series became a pop culture phenomenon, sparking a global conversation around sexual consent laws and non-consensual sex acts, including the removal of a condom during sex.
Remarkably, even before Coel highlighted the issue, it’s one that’s shockingly common, with one in three women and one in five queer men being the victim of stealthing, according to an Australian study. Of these, female sex workers are particularly at risk. Though the practice is covered under existing criminal law, the ACT is looking to put it “beyond doubt” of a crime. Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury told the ABC, “A strong and clear criminal justice response to sexual offending is important, not only for victims and survivors but also the entire community.”
“Put simply, stealthing is rape.”
Now, the bill is being put forward by Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee, with Rattenbury indicating the Labor Government would support it. As Lee posted to Facebook, “It [stealthing] is a disgusting act that happens at a vulnerable and intimate time and we, as a community, must make it clear is unacceptable. Our laws should reflect that. Today, I will be tabling a bill which specifically outlaws this heinous act. Sex with non-consensual removal of a condom negates consent and is sexual assault.”
Still, there remains a lot to be done when it comes to Australian laws surrounding sexual consent legislation. Earlier this month, New Zealand found a man guilty of rape after he removed a condom without permission halfway through sex. The case became the first known conviction for this type of offence in New Zealand and it’s hoped that it will pave the way for other governments around the world, notably Australia, to follow suit.