She told him that a condom was “non-negotiable” and that if he preferred not to use one, she would leave. The young woman, identified as “Sara” in a 2017 study, describes the encounter saying: “I have set a limit. I have been very explicit. Yet she later found out that her partner, a man she had been dating for a few weeks, had secretly removed the condom during sex.
“I ended up talking to her about it later,” Sara told study author, feminist civil rights lawyer Alexandra Brodsky. “He said, ‘Don’t worry, trust me.’ It struck me, because it had literally turned out to be unworthy of my trust.
The man who took off the condom told her to trust him not to endanger her for the potential consequences of unprotected sex – for an STD infection or for an unplanned pregnancy. But if he was someone she could trust on these matters, he would never have removed the condom in the first place.
Sara was the victim of a phenomenon that 12% of women say they have experienced, and that 10% of men say they have perpetrated, but which for years has had no legal recognition and no name other than the one given to her by her practitioners: “Stealthing”, the non-consensual withdrawal of a condom.
Now, the violation suffered by Sara and others can finally be made illegal, at least in one state. A bill introduced by California MP Cristina Garcia has passed both houses of the state legislature and would make non-consensual condom removal a civil offense. He is now awaiting a signature from Governor Gavin Newsom.
If the bill goes into effect, it would give victims the power to prosecute men who have removed condoms without their permission for the non-criminal charge of sexual violence and open the door to monetary damages. The legislatures of Wisconsin and New York are considering similar bills. If California is signed, the state will become the first in the country to recognize stealth theft as a violation of the law.
Since the bill makes concealment a civil offense and not a crime, it does not create the possibility that the culprits will serve a prison sentence. Instead, it makes them liable to fines and penalties if their victims win in court. (Bills pending in Wisconsin and New York contain criminal provisions.) But Brodsky believes that the value of a civil route to justice should not be overlooked. “I’m happy to see California continuing this approach,” she told me. “In my experience, many survivors find the types of outcomes available in civil litigation – including damages – more meaningful and useful.”