A new study explores the phenomenon of “stealthing” ― the purposefully nonconsensual removal of condoms during sex ― and how those who fall victim to the practice can move forward.
The study, written by Alexandra Brodsky for the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, features interviews with victims of stealthing. Brodsky also does a deep dive into the online world of men who feel entitled to “bareback” sex without their partner’s consent, regardless of that partner’s gender.
Ultimately, Brodsky argues, stealthing is an act of gender-based violence that may violate a number of civil and criminal laws.
Brodsky told The Huffington Post that she wanted to study the phenomenon because, as she entered law school in the fall of 2013, she realized how many of her women friends were “struggling with forms of mistreatment by sexual partners that weren’t considered part of the recognized repertoire of gender based violence ― but that seemed rooted in the same misogyny and lack of respect.”
Brodsky, who now serves as a Legal Fellow for National Women’s Law Center (but wrote this article outside of her role for the organization), told HuffPost that what she found in her research was a group of victims who knew that something about being stealthed felt incredibly violating, but they “didn’t have the vocabulary” to process it.
She opens the study with the story of one woman, Rebecca, who had been stealthed herself, and who worked on a sexual violence crisis hotline. She found that many women were calling the hotline to try to suss out their experiences of having been stealthed.
“Their stories often start the same way,” Rebecca said. “’I’m not sure if this is rape, but…’”
Victims are confronted with not only the potential repercussions of condom-less sex ― pregnancy, STIs, HIV and AIDS ― but similar feelings of confusion and shame to those who have been victims of other kinds of sexual violence. After all, women who have been stealthed have been forced into a sexual act to which they have not consented. One victim in the study called the act of stealthing “rape-adjacent.” Another shared how the experience left her feeling violated and “freaked out.”
“Obviously the part that really freaked me out…was that it was such a blatant violation of what we’d agreed to,” she said. “I set a boundary. I was very explicit.” (It’s also worth noting that, earlier this year, a man in Switzerland was convicted of rape for this very act.)
In the study, Brodsky writes, “Survivors [of stealthing] describe nonconsensual condom removal as a threat to their bodily agency and as a dignitary harm. ‘You have no right to make your own sexual decisions,’ they are told. ‘You are not worthy of my consideration.’”
Because of the connection between stealthing and sexual assault, and the fact that both acts are rooted in beliefs of male dominance and supremacy, Brodsky believes there is reason for victims to pursue justice.
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