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‘Stealthing’ sounds a bit cheeky and trendy. But let’s call it what it is, sexual assault.

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The other day I cracked open Facebook keen to see what news I should catch up on, admire some photos of my friends’ brand new granddaughter Ava and decide what funny memes I should kick over to a mate or two before I got on with the day’s work.

And I saw this post from the digital music magazine Pilerats: “Not sure who coined the phrase “stealthing” but “being a c**t” must have been taken”.

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My curiosity was piqued so I made a hot pot of tea, whacked on the onesie and moved next onto good ol’ Google to see what was up. It turns out, both nothing and everything was up. The internet, or more accurately, the people who USE the internet, had started a new term, a new frame of reference, and (as always) the lowest common denominators had started a series of secret Facebook groups to celebrate and goad each other into doing this so-called new thing, “stealthing”.  High fives, bros.

Stealthing is a new term used for people who secretly remove or damage a condom during sex and do it in order to specifically deceive their partner into believing it’s still on. Stealthing, so we’re clear, is the non-consensual removal of a condom during sex.

"Stealthing needs to be treated with the seriousness it deserves and we need to not blame the victims." (Image: iStock)

These days, it’s common knowledge that condoms are awesome as a barrier to spreading most STI’s and practicing safer sex. They are highly effective at preventing pregnancy. This is why so many people insist on their use during sexual encounters, and why condoms have become part of the consent discussion.

As a sex educator, I’m well aware that secretive condom removal or damage has been happening since the existing of these handy prophylactics. It’s happened for a range of reasons, from attempts to exert dominance and control, through to stone-cold selfishness motivated by the increase in physical pleasure.

An Australian man, who declined to be named but referred to himself as ‘Brendan’ on Tripe J’s Hack program on Wednesday 17th May, proudly declared he’s been regularly stealthing since he became sexually active, and when asked why, proudly announced, “Because it feels better with no condom on.” When pressed about the risk of passing on STI’s, he openly admitted he was prepared to take the risk because “I’m not a dirty-looking guy,” he said.

During the show, Hack host Tom Tilley clarified “But you made an agreement to wear a condom and then you breach that without the person knowing,” he said. Brendan's response was spectacularly selfish, stating “I don’t know. I don’t think I really make an agreement. I just put one on and if nothing is said I take it off. I don’t think it’s breaking the law.” He also told Tilley he believed his views were shared by most of his mates.

The end result is that women, who believe they are practicing safer sex and a form of contraception, are left completely exposed to the risk of STIs and unplanned pregnancy.

Before anyone starts commenting that you can ‘feel the difference’ when a condom is ripped or removed, it’s different for everyone as we all have different bodies, different partners, different sensations and when you start using lubricants and other sex devices, it’s a whole different ball park. Stealthing needs to be treated with the seriousness it deserves and we need to not blame the victims.

I’m not a fan of the term itself. ‘Stealthing’ sounds a bit cheeky, trendy like ‘ghosting’ and mostly innocuous (“high five, bro”), when the act is actually a clear breach of consent, making it sexual assault. We live in a rape culture and for years, ‘stealthing’ has been treated like a meme, and a joke.

Stealthing is not a joke. It's assault. (Image: Twitter)

Now, the sexual assault evidence is stacking up hard. Condom removal or damage has always happened but as men and women (women in particular) continue to gain protections against violence and assaults that in the past were ignored or glossed over as ‘private matters’, this form of assault now has a (stupid) name and the research and legal cases are piling up.

Alexandra Brodsky published a study in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law on the problem and this paper has successfully laid out the arguments why ‘stealthing’ is sexual assault. Recently, a Swiss court saw that paper presented as part of a rape case (under appeal) and a rape conviction was recorded. It has now set the precedent of the practice as criminal. There are cases in the pipeline in the USA.

In Australia, no-one has yet taken a case of ‘stealthing’ to court, but it’s likely only a matter of time.

Listen: Meshel Laurie discusses, can a rape joke ever be funny? (post continues after audio...)

So what we can do about it? First up, educate your kids why it’s wrong. Educate them that it’s not a meme or a joke. Educate your kids to stand up for their rights and their consent. As a society our views are changing on consent, and things we’ve often (as a herd) stood by and allowed to happen, like domestic violence and sexual assault, we no longer do.

The same goes for ‘stealthing’. It’s always happened. And now it’s got a name, legal precedents are growing, legislation will catch up in Australia, and as women we’ve got a better chance of having the safer sex we insist on and deserve. Everyone has a role to play to pull the perpetrators out of the shadows and stop allowing the ‘boys will be boys’ trope continue to perpetuate.

Row Murray is the author of ‘For Foxes’ Sake’ and is all about sex education while Snapchatting. She’s Australia’s answer to a sex fairy godmother for teens. You can follow her on Twitter here and read more here.

Does the traction of 'stealthing' worry you? Does it make you think differently about your relationships?

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