Democratic Reps. Ro Khanna of California and Carolyn Maloney of New York sent a letter on Wednesday requesting the House judiciary committee convene a hearing addressing nonconsensual condom removal, more commonly known as “stealthing.”
The legislators are raising the issue in hope that the public can better understand the scope of this problem and examine any potential legal remedies to it.
In a joint statement, the lawmakers’ office said “stealthing” should be recognized as a “violation of trust and dignity between two sexual partners and acknowledged when developing policies to stop sexual assault and rape.”
In their letter to the House committee, they write that a hearing on the issue would allow members of Congress to become more educated on the subject.
“Consent is not up for discussion, it is a requirement for the entirety of any sexual interaction. Stealthing violates an agreement between partners and is a dangerous form of sexual assault,” Khanna said in a statement announcing the letter. “The implications of the practice of nonconsensual condom removal are far-reaching with respect to the ongoing national conversation on the definition of consensual sex.”
In the letter, the lawmakers argue that nonconsensual condom removal is becoming a legal problem and they need testimony from experts to answer about the practice itself. They pose four questions they would ask experts, including how common the act is in general.
“Recent legal and academic articles have considered how nonconsensual condom removal could in fact turn consensual sex into nonconsensual sex by way of different legal mechanisms,” they wrote in the letter.
Giving the act of nonconsenual condom removal an official name could be a major support for people who have experienced the act, many of whom face an uphill battle in the legal system, according to an article published in April in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law. Taking action may also add a new layer to the ongoing discussion about consent and sexual assault, the author said.
“I worry that victims (of stealthing) might struggle in court using current laws,” said Alexandra Brodsky, who authored the article when she was a student at Yale Law School.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline has received calls about stealthing, according to Brian Pinero, vice president of victim services for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which operates the hotline.
“If someone’s a victim, it’s not their job to prove something,” said Pinero. “It’s our job to receive that person … and then treat them with dignity and with respect.”
It’s impossible to say how common stealthing might be, Pinero said. What is certain, he said, is that it is clearly a breach of consent.
“You only consent to however far you want to go,” he said, adding that people can suffer real psychological and physical harms after having something like that happen to them.
These harms may include sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancy and emotional distress, Brodsky wrote in her article. The emotional distress can be especially difficult for people who have experienced sexual assault in the past, Pinero said.
In her article — which helped garner attention to the act of “stealthing” — Brodsky advocates for a new civil law that would specifically name the practice “in order to hopefully cut through some of those biases” and provide a clearer legal path for victims, she said.
“I am horrified that we even need to be having this conversation, that a sexual partner would violate their partner’s trust and consent like this. Stealthing is sexual assault,” Maloney said in a statement. “We need a hearing so that Congress can hear from the experts about how to best address this issue as we continue to amend our country’s and universities’ responses to sexual assault and rape.”