TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT AND RAPE
California has just passed a law banning nonconsensual condom removal (also known as “stealthing”), making it a civil offense. The sponsor of the bill, Assemblywoman Christina Garcia, had been attempting to pass legalization on stealthing since a Yale University study came out in 2017 by Alexandra Brodsky and the subject gained broad attention.
The study found two major themes in those who had experienced nonconsensual condom removal: the fear of unwanted pregnancy and/or STIs and feelings of violation of both their bodies and their trust. The study also looked online at the rhetoric used to justify stealthing, towards both men and women, and much of it circled around “a man’s ‘right’ to spread his seed– even when reproduction is not an option.” This rhetoric, rooted in misogyny, is dangerous and promotes sexual violence, regardless of the gender or orientation of the partner.
In terms of penalties for stealthing, the new law does not currently specify a certain amount, or any, jail time. I’m not a lawyer, so I looked into what exactly defines civil law since stealthing is now classified as a civil offense. According to an article on Civil Law vs. Criminal Law, civil law essentially “deals with disputes between one entity and another,” whereas criminal law would involve “an individual’s offenses against the state or federal government.” In terms of punishment, where criminal law cases often see the perpetrator facing incarceration, civil law mostly results in the perpetrator having to pay financially or having to “change behavior.”
Much of the opposition to this bill revolved around the ways in which proof would be shown. I think it’s a good question to pose, but not because it should deter the passing or validity of the bill. It’s important because of the reception of sexual assault victims in our justice system. The majority of sexual assault crimes go unreported. Statistics from RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, show that of every 1,000 sexual assaults, 310 are reported, only 50 lead to arrest, and only 28 cases lead to a felony conviction. RAINN also looked at reasons for not reporting sexual violence crimes, with 20% of victims fearing retaliation and 13% believing law enforcement wouldn’t help. So even in reported cases, the likelihood that the perpetrator will face a justifiable punishment is low. It’s fair for victims to be wary of the justice system, especially in regards to punishments for sexual assault and sexual violence crimes.
So, will this bill do anything? In a New York Times article on stealthing, Assemblywoman Garcia said she sees the bill as “‘a good first step’… to eventually add stealthing to the state’s criminal code.” Stealthing is an issue that, honestly, I didn’t even know had a name until I learned about the passing of the bill. It’s an important one, though, with 12% of women in a study conducted from 2013-2017 stating that they have been a victim of it and 10% of men saying that they have done it. Stealthing can also have serious consequences. Men with a history of stealthing are much more likely to have gotten an STI and much more likely to have a partner who had an unplanned pregnancy. I agree that the bill is a good first step but we also really need to see a change in a system that does not often believe or side with the victims of sexual assault. Laws banning stealthing have been introduced in other states, but have not been passed.
It’s good that California has taken this step, but I also think that there is much more to be done. It’s also definitely a topic that needs to be more widely discussed, especially on college campuses.
I think whether this new law will be effective or not remains to be seen. Given that it is the first of its kind, it’s hard to say, but including the law in California’s criminal code should be the next step. Should someone report stealthing, I hope that a precedent is set, both in California and for other states, that the nonconsensual removal of a condom is wrong and parties involved must be held accountable. Going forward, rulings must reflect that.
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673