What is ‘stealthing’? Meaning of term to describe non-consensual sex act - and is it illegal in the UK

What are the laws around stealthing in the UK?

California has recently banned non-consensual condom removal during sex, known as ‘stealthing’.

But what is stealthing and what are the laws around it in the UK?

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What is stealthing?

Stealthing is the act of non-consensual condom removal during sex, despite agreeing to wear one.

What are the new laws in California?

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bipartisan bill that outlaws non-consensual condom removal.

The new legislation adds the act to the state’s civil definition of sexual battery, which sees California the first US state to make stealthing illegal.

California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who introduced the bill, said: “We wanted to make sure that it’s not only immoral, but illegal.”

Garcia has been working on some version of this legislation for years.

In both 2017 and 2018 she introduced a bill that would have made stealthing a criminal offence and allowed prosecutors to seek jail time for perpetrators, but these bills either died on the floor or did not get a hearing.

However, this new version, which amends just the civil code, passed in the California legislation with no opposition.

Survivors can sue offenders for damages, but no criminal charges can be brought forward.

Garcia said she was inspired to bring the topic of stealthing to the House floor after reading a 2017 Yale Law School research paper by then-student Alexandra Brodsky.

Brodsky is now widely credited with bringing the term stealthing into popular use.

She also now works as a civil rights lawyer and is the author of Sexual Justice, which which looks at how to respond fairly to sexual assault.

What are the laws around stealthing in the UK?

In England and Wales, condom removal - or stealthing - is legally recognised as assault under the term “conditional consent”.

Under Scottish Law there is no specific reference to stealthing or condom removal as a criminal offence.

During a Chamber and Committees question and answer session in February 2021, the Scottish government was asked whether it will legislate to classify the act of stealthing as a sexual assault, as is the position in England and Wales.

The response was that “the Scottish government considers that the courts would be likely to consider that the non-consensual removal of a condom would vitiate consent to sexual activity with a condom as consent to protected sex could not be considered to amount to consent to unprotected sex.

The answer added: “However we keep the criminal law under continuous review.”

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