California poised to become the first state to outlaw ‘stealthing’

Person holds a condom behind their back while staring at their partner. This image is used to illustrate California lawmakers have sent a bill banning secretly removing a condom during sex – commongly known as 'stealthing' – to governor Gavin Newsom.

California could soon become the first state to outlaw “stealthing”, the vile practice of removing a condom during sex without verbal consent.

State lawmakers sent a bill to governor Gavin Newsom’s desk on Tuesday (7 September) that would add the act to California’s civil definition of sexual battery, the Associated Press reported.

The proposed bill, AB 453, would allow victims to sue perpetrators who removed a condom without verbal consent for damages, including punitive damages. However, according to the Washington Post, the California bill stops short of classifying nonconsensual condom removal as a crime that could result in jail time.

Similar bills on stealthing have previously been introduced in New York and Wisconsin, but neither passed, the New York Times reported.

Democratic assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who introduced AB 453, has been advocating for such legislation to be passed since 2017 when a Yale University study brought widespread attention to it.

She said in a statement that stealthing is a disgusting act that can cause long-term physical and emotional harm to its victims. Garcia urged Newsom to sign the bill into law to “make it clear that stealthing is not just immoral but illegal”.

“It’s disgusting that there are online communities that defend and encourage stealthing and give advice on how to get away with removing the condom without the consent of their partner, but there is nothing in law that makes it clear that this is a crime,” Garcia said.

She added that there is still “so much stigma” attached to stealthing. Garcia said this stigma remained even after “every critic lauded” Michaela Coel’s groundbreaking series I May Destroy You, which contained “compelling depictions of the horrors of sexual abuse including ‘stealthing’”.

A 2018 global study by Monash University in Australia estimated one in three women and one in five men who have sex with men experienced a partner removing a condom without their consent, the Guardian reported.

Alexandra Brodsky, who wrote the 2017 Yale study and who is now a civil rights lawyer, told the New York Times that the bill could bring “political and personal power” to victims of stealthing.

She added that “civil remedies” are “really underutilised” and could prove more useful to victims.

“There are many survivors who do not want to see the person who hurt them in prison and could really use help covering medical debt or could use help having the resources to see a therapist,” Brodsky said.