If the term “stealthing” is something that’s unfamiliar to you, you’re not alone. Up until recently, if you asked people what they thought the word meant, a whole myriad of answers may have been offered up.
Now, a dark universal understanding of the term is slowly coming to light, and sadly it’s one that many women and gay men can relate to.
According to US-based researcher Alexandra Brodsky, stealthing refers to the act of a man removing a condom during intercourse without the permission of their sexual partner.
“Survivors [of stealthing] describe nonconsensual condom removal as a threat to their bodily agency and as a dignitary harm," Brodsky writes in her study recently published in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law.
"‘You have no right to make your own sexual decisions,’ they are told. ‘You are not worthy of my consideration.’”
Because not only is stealthing violating and invasive, it's also fraught with potentially unwanted medical outcomes like STIs and pregnancy.
And in addition to being a gender-based form of violence, it's also potentially a criminal act. An act, Brodsky hypothesises, stems from the sense of entitlement, power and patriarchal privilege men believe they hold in sex - or in more simpler terms, the right to go bareback if it's what will bring them more pleasure.
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According to Rebecca, a sexual violence crisis hotline worker and victim of stealthing Brodsky spoke to, the stories she hears of the practice are often eerily similar.
“Their stories often start the same way,” Rebecca says.
“’I’m not sure if this is rape, but...’”
“Survivors [of stealthing] experience real harms ― emotional, financial, and physical ― to which the law might provide remedy through compensation or simply an opportunity to be heard and validated,” Brodsky says, adding that a major part of the difficulty lies in a system that often offers victims the exact opposite experience.
Often when reporting, women are not heard. Their experiences are not validated and compensation is nowhere to be seen.
“We know that the law doesn’t work for gender violence survivors,” Brodsky told Huffington Post on Friday. “Many of the myths and assumptions and forms of scepticismcism that we see from judges approaching rape victims and other kinds of sexual assault victims are likely to be present in stealthing cases.”
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, one of the goals of her study, Brodsky says, is to help create a language that allows victims to process their experience and a vocabulary that permits talking about it should they wish.
“The law isn’t the answer for everyone, and it can’t fix every problem every time,” Brodsky says.
“One of my goals with the article... is to provide a vocabulary and create ways for people to talk about what is a really common experience that just is too often dismissed as just ‘bad sex’ instead of ‘violence.’”
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual violence, support is available via CASA.