‘Stealthing’ is when a a sexual partner removes a condom during sex (Picture: Getty Images)
Safe, consensual sex between two (or more, if you fancy) people should be fun.
You’re trusting someone with one of your more intimate moments, and it’s arguably when you’re at your most vulnerable.
Whether you’ve just met, or met their entire family at uncle Dave’s wedding, sex is about trust.
Trust that you’ll both have a good time, and trust that you’re both comfortable with whatever the sex is for – whether that be for babies, or for a no-strings 48-hour shagathon with someone you’ll never see again.
I imagine we’ve all had the conversations about what contraception someone’s on, or who’s bringing the condom(s). Some of us have even had the conversations about if we’re ready to come off contraception, STI tests and about our sexual history.
So imagine when that trust is used against you.
Stealthing is a prime example of it. It’s when safe, consensual sex morphs into something you didn’t – and would perhaps never – agree to. Shockingly, most women don’t even realise they’ve been a victim of it, or that it’s in fact rape.
‘Stealthing’ is when a sexual partner removes a condom during sex non-consensually, and is considered rape by UK law.
While I frankly think it’s an extremely poorly coined pop culture-like term that may make you think of a crouching Tomb Raider, or your cat prowling behind an unbeknownst bee: it’s not a joke.
It’s not ‘cheeky’, ‘naughty’ or ‘a sex trend’ – it’s rape.
And it doesn’t just happen to women, too.
Recently, in Germany, a woman was convicted of stealthing after poking holes in the condoms of her ‘friend with benefits’.
The 39-year-old was handed an (arguably woeful) six-month suspended sentence after admitting to developing feelings for the man who wanted a ‘casual’ relationship, and sabotaging the condoms in order to fall pregnant with his child.
In one of the first cases of its kind, the jury were at first baffled as to what to charge the woman with, but agreed that it was considered stealthing.
Controversially, I would even argue that the reason it went to court – and resulted in a conviction – in the first place was because it happened to a man. I dread to think what the result would have been if it was the other way round.
Though stealthing is illegal in the UK, there has only been one widely known successful prosecution of it in Britain, despite stories of women being victims of non-consensual condom removal peppering internet forums and the press in recent years.
A 35-year-old man from Bournemouth was convicted of stealthing and sentenced to 12 years in prison back in 2019 – the same year accusations of Jullian Assange committing the same crime in Switzerland, nine years earlier, were dropped.
As public interest in the popular term rises – it was even explored in Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You – we see women and men admitting to cases of stealthing as forms of revenge, or to ‘trap’ people into relationships for fear of losing them.
A 2018 Australian survey found that both one in three women and one in five men who have sex with men had experienced stealthing. Some respondents had admitted to contracting STIs and HIV afterwards, though the study couldn’t directly link it with the sexual assault.
It’s not ‘cheeky’, ‘naughty’ or ‘a sex trend’ – it’s rape
Sadly, despite this obvious breach of both the law and trust, only 1% of male and female respondents reported the event to the police, despite most of them being ‘emotionally distressed’ afterwards.
To be honest, I don’t blame women for not reporting it. Why bother? They’d just be seen as ‘drama queens’, asked about if they ‘enjoyed’ the sex before they realised their consent had been violated.
They’d probably be interrogated on their sexual wellness and history, if they were sex workers, what they were wearing, and how much alcohol they’d consumed, as well as the frivolity of the situation.
And that’s even if the police choose to take their reports seriously.
In the first half of 2021, it was discovered that the average wait time for a rape case to go to trial was 1,020 days. That’s over two and a half years.
Out of those that even made it to court, a disgusting 1.3% ended up in prosecution – on average seven and a half years after the offence had taken place. Sit back and let that sink in, just for a second.
So is it any wonder that the majority of survivors don’t report sexual assualt or violence to the police in the first place?
With this in mind, I’m sure stealthing happens much more often than we could ever accredit numbers to – especially when it’s so under-reported and men could just say they were drunk and the condom ‘fell off’, or it could be at the hands of a once-loved-and-trusted partner.
Frankly, there’s only so much ‘emotional distress’ women can go through before it becomes overwhelming. Exhausting.
Plus, with the US Supreme Court seemingly in favour of overturning Roe v. Wade, making abortion illegal in 22 states, the prospect of an unwanted pregnancy after a violation of your consent feels all the more terrifying.
There needs to be an overhaul in the deep-rooted, entrenched misogyny when it comes to reporting sexual assault. If survivors of stealthing are taken seriously, without a man’s word against theirs, then maybe – just maybe – women would feel safe enough to truly enjoy their sexual experiences without fear their consent will be violated in secret.
As is their right.
The police need to become trustworthy and respectful, which right now is a laughable concept.
If stealthing was perhaps treated as a serious crime, and not as a pop culture term with the same bulls**t ‘buzzword’ coinage as ‘ghosting’, ‘oystering’, ‘scrooging’ or ‘love bombing,’ more people would report cases of non-consensual or uncomfortable sexual experiences.
It’s not enough to assume that women will eventually want children anyway, or that they’re on contraception. It’s not enough to assume that women will ‘just get the morning-after pill’.
It’s not enough that we’re not enough to be taken seriously.