What Is Stealthing And Why Isn’t It Illegal Yet In India?
In a world where educators, parents, and activists are trying to educate people about the nuances of basic consent, there’s an insidious form of sexual assault called ‘stealthing’ that does not receive widespread attention.
Stealthing is non-consensual condom removal (NCCR), or the practice of someone secretly removing their condom during sexual intercourse with a partner who has consented to protected sex. This exposes the partner to an increased risk of STIs and unwanted pregnancy.
Stealthing, as a term, has existed, especially within the queer community, at least since 2014. But a 2017 article, published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law by Alexandra Brodsky, a civil rights litigator and a Legal Fellow for National Women’s Law Center in the US, is often credited with making the subject a part of popular discourse. This study reviewed the existing and proposed legal repercussions of the act of NCCR, and featured interviews with several victims of stealthing.
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There is very little statistical research and analysis on stealthing, even though the National Sexual Assault Hotline in the US told CNN in 2017 that over the years, they have received several calls from people who have been stealthed, although they didn’t quote a number. A study at a sexual health clinic in Melbourne found that 32 percent of women responders, and 19 percent of men who engaged in sexual intercourse with other men, reported being stealthed.
There are articles online that give men tips on how to stealth successfully. One of them, written by an individual named Mark Bentson, says, “Stealthing is controversial. Yes, I know that. But it’s also a reality. If you want to do it, you need to know how. If you don’t, you should know the techniques someone employs.” In 2017, after the Publication of Brodsky’s paper, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed a self-confessed stealther, who said: “I’ve only just heard about stealthing now and I think it’s a ridiculous claim. I don’t think I really make an agreement. I just put one on and if nothing is said I take it off. I don’t think it’s breaking the law.” When simply asked why he does it, he bluntly said that it felt better.
In January 2017, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court found a man guilty of rape after his sexual partner, a woman he had met on Tinder, accused him of covertly removing the condom he was wearing mid-way during an otherwise consensual sexual intercourse. Subsequently, in September 2018, an Australian court charged a man with raping his sexual partner after he removed his condom without permission while they were having sex. Then, in December 2018, a local court in Berlin, Germany held a police officer guilty of sexual assault for stealthing on his partner, who had “explicitly requested” him to wear a condom. In addition, lawmakers in the states of Wisconsin and California in the US have also introduced bills to criminalize stealthing.
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However, in India there is limited discourse around stealthing, likely because sex itself is more of a taboo subject here. “The law in India deals only with consent, and non-consent; it’s very black and white. It doesn’t have the finesse that can make such an act punishable, and we aren’t there yet. We are a long way off,” Flavia Agnes, well-known Indian women’s rights lawyer, told Mid Day, commenting on stealthing.
Professor Mrinal Satish, who was involved in India’s amendment to rape laws in 2013, believes that stealthing would, technically, amount to rape in India if the consent was conditional on the man wearing a condom. But, given the absence of legal precedent, or even statistical research, on the subject in India, the illegality of stealthing remains unclear.
A manifestation of male entitlement, stealthing is deceptive, non-consensual, and an abuse of boundaries. “Survivors describe NCCR as a threat to their bodily agency and as a dignitary harm,” Brodsky said, adding that it’s as if they are told: “You have no right to make your own sexual decisions. You are not worthy of my consideration.”