On Thursday, California became the first state in the US to take action against non-consensual condom removal during sex, an act known as “stealthing,” NPR reports. This means that if during the act of consensual sex a participant removes their condom without the consent of the other participant(s), that person can be sued in civil court. While this is certainly a step in the right direction and more than any other state has done, it is at best a half measure that doesn’t go far enough to deter the behavior.
The idea behind making stealthing a civil offense as opposed to a criminal offense is reportedly based on the needs of the victim. Alexandra Brodsky, an attorney who wrote about the phenomenon in 2017, told NPR, “There are a lot of survivors who don’t want to see the person who hurt them in prison but really could use some help rebuilding their lives, paying for mental health care, paying off medical debt, being able to take some time off from work in order to heal.” The issue of stealthing was also recently explored in Michaela Cole’s award-winning TV drama I May Destroy You, which tackled multi-layer consent and the fallout of ignoring it. Cole’s character classified the act of stealthing as rape.
Providing a path forward for survivors is all good and well, but considering this country’s inability to do anything about perpetrators, while survivors are neglected and publicly shamed rather than supported—one is naturally skeptical of how much value can be found in an expensive and time-consuming civil suit that will only see a perpetrator fork over some money.
What the ban on stealthing does accomplish is to shed light on how consensual sexual encounters do not always remain consensual from start to finish. Cristina Garcia, the state assemblymember who introduced the legislation, “says she hopes the new law will lead to others like it — as well as a more nuanced understanding of the many different kinds of sexual violence.”