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If a man removes his condom during sex without notifying his partner, is that rape? A new study published in Columbia Journal of Gender and Law explores the consequences of “stealthing,” which researchers have dubbed “rape-adjacent.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 women have experienced some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. About 1 in 15 men have been forced to penetrate someone. The CDC notes that while these statistics may seem shocking on their face, the actual numbers may be far higher due to underreporting and stigmatization. Further, defining what constitutes sexual assault can be confusing for victims — especially as it relates to things like stealthing.
“Survivors [of stealthing] describe non-consensual condom removal as a threat to their bodily agency and as a dignitary harm,” study author Alexandra Brodsky writes. “‘You have no right to make your own sexual decisions,’ they are told. ‘You are not worthy of my consideration.’”
There are no laws that specifically target non-consensual condom removal but, Brodsky argues, there should be. Condom removal leaves partners vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy. The act also violates the recipient partner’s sense of agency and autonomy, just as sexual assault and rape do. Partners enter the sexual experience with a mutual agreement to engage in protected sex, and one of the partners violates that agreement by removing the condom.
“Our society is used to excusing men and perpetuating the belief that men have access to women’s bodies when they want,” Brodsky told Buzzfeed News. “The law should support the belief that people have the right to their own bodies.”
Ultimately, Brodsky hopes that possible criminal, tort, contract, or civil rights remedies will be offered to victims of stealthing.