What is Stealthing? The Sexual Misconduct Gaining Legal Attention Around the World
Condoms at a store in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on March 11, 2023. Credit - Creative Touch Imaging Ltd.—NurPhoto/Getty Images
A Dutch man was convicted of removing his condom without his partner’s consent, an act known as “stealthing,” in the Netherlands’ first trial of its kind. The Netherlands has no specific law against stealthing and these were the first rulings on the practice, according to public broadcaster NOS.
“By his actions, the suspect forced the victim to tolerate having unprotected sex with him. In doing so, he restricted her personal freedom and abused the trust she had placed in him,” the court said.
The suspect, a 28-year-old man from Rotterdam, pled guilty to coercion and was given a three-month suspended prison term and ordered to pay his victim 1,000 euros in damages. The man was acquitted of a rape charge, as the Dordrecht District Court, where the case was heard, ruled that the sex was consensual. The suspect sent the victim texts afterwards including one that said “you will be fine,” AFP reported, citing the court.
In a separate case, a 25-year-old man was cleared of charges after finding that he had not removed a condom at any time, but had instead failed to put one on altogether.
A Dutch website, Stealthing.nl, run by a 2017 stealthing victim, is compiling anonymous stories from victims of the practice, in the hopes of raising awareness and encouraging victims to file police reports.
“Revenge porn and cyberbullying were not punishable at first either,” the site says. “I hope that my website will give other victims of stealthing the strength to at least file a report, so that we can eventually do something with this in the Dutch judiciary. “
A 2017 Yale study found that both men and women have been victims of stealthing. In addition to putting victims at risk of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies, the study said survivors described experiencing “a violation of trust and a denial of autonomy, not dissimilar to rape.”
But globally, there are still few legal protections in place for victims of the practice. Germany, Switzerland, and New Zealand have all dealt with similar cases in recent years. In a 2018 case in Berlin, a police officer was found guilty of sexual assault for removing his condom during sex without consent. He was ordered to pay almost 3,100 euros in damages and received an eight-month suspended jail sentence.
In the U.S., California became the first state to make it illegal to remove a condom without explicit consent in 2021. Stealthing is classified as a civil offense in California rather than a crime, and victims are able to sue perpetrators directly in civil court.