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pexels-anete-lusina-5723191.jpgNearly half of women report experiencing some form of sexual violence (SV) across the lifespan (Brieding, 2015). Prevalence of SV is even greater among women with minoritized sexual identities (Edwards et al., 2015), women of color (Crenshaw, 2013), and women of lower socioeconomic privilege (Kennedy et al., 2021; Reichel, 2017), suggesting the importance of considering intersectionality in mitigation of SV. One form of SV that is beginning to garner policy and research attention is “stealthing” (i.e., non-consensual condom removal). Stealthing behaviors include a sexual partner removing a condom without permission during sex or initiating condomless sex despite having been asked to wear a condom. Recent research has identified prevalence rates of stealthing experienced by women of between 19-32% (Bonar et al., 2021; Latimer et al., 2018). A recent examination of a college student sample indicated that over 50% of women who report having six or more lifetime sexual partners also report at least once instance of stealthing (Bogen et al., 2022). Moreover, approximately one third of men in community samples admit to using coercive condom use resistance tactics (Davis & Logan-Greene, 2012), and 6.1% of male emerging adults (ages 18-25) admit to purposefully removing a condom during penetration without a receptive partner’s knowledge (Bonar et al., 2021). Prevalence research has not yet clarified the proportion of men who have either failed or refused to put a condom on prior to initiation of sex despite having been asked to use a condom.

Distinct from reproductive coercion, perpetration of stealthing may not involve the explicit desire to control the reproductive decision-making of a sexual partner (i.e., forcing them to become pregnant). However, risks of stealthing nevertheless include exposure to sexually transmitted infections (Davis, 2019) and unwanted pregnancy (Dzirash, 2021; Latimer et al, 2018). Given prevalence and outcomes of stealthing, United States (U.S.) legislators and physicians have called for policies to allay stealthing perpetration and protect the reproductive autonomy of individuals exposed to stealthing (AAFP, 2020; Plantoff, 2022).
To undergird the necessity for preventive legislation, stealthing has been framed as a violation of sexual trust (Ahmad et al., 2020), a form of sexual violence (Blanco, 2018), and “rape-adjacent” (Brodsky, 2016). In the United Kingdom, stealthing is legally considered a form of rape; however, there has only been one successful prosecution of a stealthing case (Stonehouse, 2021). The U.S. has taken a state-by-state approach to stealthing criminalization. Thus far, California is the only state to prohibit stealthing, Gov. Gavin Newsom having made non-consensual condom removal illegal in October of 2021 (Grullón Paz, 2021). However, absence of federal legislation on stealthing makes it more challenging for individuals who experience stealthing to acknowledge or label their experiences as violence, as a crime against their person, or as something for which they are entitled to seek justice and damages, despite the associated risks and negative outcomes. Perhaps of most urgent concern given the current political climate is the risk for unwanted pregnancy among women who are “stealthed.”

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court repealed Roe vs. Wade, which had enshrined abortion access within the U.S. constitution for half a century prior to its removal (Totenberg & McCammon, 2022). Given the pregnancy-related risks of stealthing as well as the prevalence of non-consensual condom removal, this anti-abortion legislation has startling implications for the reproductive health of people who experience stealthing. It is difficult to effectively prevent pregnancy if partners are being deceptive about or sabotaging condom use, especially given sexual education recommendations that condoms be used as a both a primary method of pregnancy prevention, as well as a back-up barrier method. Multiplicative harms may result from high stealthing incidence, lack of available reproductive healthcare (abortion), difficulty labeling stealthing experiences as SV, and even the possibility that individuals can be stealthed without ever knowing that the condom removal has occurred (Latimer, 2018). The ever shifting and gray legal landscapes of stealthing legislation and abortion restriction may result in sinister outcomes for people who experience stealthing, including forced pregnancy and coercive reproductive control.

Members of the U.S. Congress from Democratic-held legislatures have begun drafting legislation explicitly naming stealthing as a violation of human rights and creating legal pathways for victims to sue perpetrators for damages (Platoff, 2022). Absent federal stealthing legislation within the United States, the Senate has proposed to amend the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to require a section on reproductive rights in the annual country reports on Human Rights Practices, including clarification on: “instances of coerced abortion, coerced pregnancy, coerced sterilization, use of incentives or disincentives to lower or raise fertility, withholding of information on reproductive health options, and other forms of reproductive and sexual coercion.” (S. 1864 – Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act of 2021, introduced by Senator Menendez [D – NJ]). As of the last legislative session, this bill was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. It is unclear whether signage of this bill, or enforcement of its requirements abroad, would in fact motivate legislators to enhance reproductive human rights as a policy priority in the U.S.

To ensure that the U.S. court system is prepared to support people who have experienced stealthing, and that these people have access to healthcare addressing the possible outcomes of stealthing (i.e., pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections), stealthing legislation must be a priority of the U.S. Congress. Moreover, scholar-activists who engage in stealthing research can use data highlighting this alarmingly common trend to support pro-choice policies as harm-reduction for sexual and interpersonal violence survivors.
 

About the Author

Katherine W. Bogen, MA (she/her/hers) is a doctoral student in the Clinical Psychology Training Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is associated with both the VISTA lab (Dr. David DiLillo) and the WISH lab (Dr. Tierney Lorenz). Her research focuses on examining the intersections of sexual violence and sexual functioning, with the hope of developing and evaluating interventions to support survivors in building consensual, pleasurable, and fully-embodied intimate lives. She provides evidence-based treatment for PTSD among college students who have experienced sexual harm.

References

Ahmad, M., Becerra, B., Hernandez, D., Okpala, P., Olney, A., & Becerra, M. (2020). “You do it without their knowledge.” Assessing knowledge and perception of stealthing among college students. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(10), 3527.
American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). (2020). Backgrounder: Stealthing. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/dam/AAFP/documents/advocacy/prevention/safety/BKG-Stealthing.pdf 

Blanco, M. M. (2018). Sex Trend Or Sexual Assault: The Dangers of Stealthing and the Concept of Conditional Consent. Penn St. L. Rev., 123, 217.
Bonar, E. E., Ngo, Q. M., Philyaw-Kotov, M. L., Walton, M. A., & Kusunoki, Y. (2021). Stealthing perpetration and victimization: prevalence and correlates among emerging adults. Journal of interpersonal violence, 36(21-22), NP11577-NP11592. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260519888519

Breiding, M. J. (2015). Prevalence and characteristics of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence victimization-national intimate partner and sexual violence survey, United States, 2011. American journal of public health, 105(4), E11.

Brodsky, A. (2016). Rape-adjacent: Imagining legal responses to nonconsensual condom removal. Colum. J. Gender & L., 32, 183.

Crenshaw, K. W. (2013). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. In The public nature of private violence (pp. 93-118). Routledge.

Davis, K. C., Stappenbeck, C. A., Masters, N. T., & George, W. H. (2019). Young women's experiences with coercive and noncoercive condom use resistance: examination of an understudied sexual risk behavior. Women's Health Issues, 29(3), 231-237. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.whi.2019.01.005

Dzirasah, K. D. (2021). ‘Stealthing’: A Silent Threat to Sexual and Reproductive Health. Available at SSRN 3983495.

Davis K. C. (2019). "Stealthing": Factors associated with young men's nonconsensual condom removal. Health Psychology38(11), 997–1000. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000779

Davis, K. C., & Logan-Greene, P. (2012). Young men's aggressive tactics to avoid condom use: A test of a theoretical model. Social Work Research, 36(3), 223-231. https://doi.org/10.1093/swr/svs027

Edwards, K. M., Sylaska, K. M., Barry, J. E., Moynihan, M. M., Banyard, V. L., Cohn, E. S., ... & Ward, S. K. (2015). Physical dating violence, sexual violence, and unwanted pursuit victimization: A comparison of incidence rates among sexual-minority and heterosexual college students. Journal of interpersonal violence, 30(4), 580-600. https://doi.org/10.1177/088626051453526

Grullon Paz, I. (2021). “California makes ‘Stealthing’, or removing condom without consent, illegal.” The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/08/us/stealthing-illegal-california.html

Kennedy, A. C., Meier, E., & Saba, J. (2021). Sexual violence within intimate relationships. In J. Devaney, C. Bradbury-Jones, R. J. Macy, C. Øverlien, & S. Holt (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of domestic violence and abuse. London: Routledge

Latimer, R. L., Vodstrcil, L. A., Fairley, C. K., Cornelisse, V. J., Chow, E. P., Read, T. R., & Bradshaw, C. S. (2018). Non-consensual condom removal, reported by patients at a sexual health clinic in Melbourne, Australia. PloS one, 13(12), e0209779. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0209779 

Platoff, E. (2022). “Massachusetts lawmakers look to outlaw ‘stealthing,’ or nonconsensual condom removal.” The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/01/05/metro/massachusetts-lawmakers-look-outlaw-stealthing-or-nonconsensual-condom-removal/

Reichel, D. (2017). Determinants of intimate partner violence in Europe: The role of socioeconomic status, inequality, and partner behavior. Journal of interpersonal violence, 32(12), 1853-1873. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260517698951

Stonehouse, R. (2021). Stealthing: ‘I didn’t realise it’s rape until it happened to me’. The BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-57618003

Totenberg, N. & McCammon, S. (2022). Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, ending right to abortion upheld for decades. NPR. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2022/06/24/1102305878/supreme-court-abortion-roe-v-wade-decision-overturn