Imagine having sex with a man, agreeing beforehand to use protection, only to find out that he removed the condom during intercourse.
That's what a dangerous new sex trend called "stealthing" is all about. And not only does it put partners at risk for STIs and pregnancy— it's also a lesser-known form of assault.
Skadden Fellow Alexandra Brodsky recently sat down with The Huffington Post to discuss a study she conducted for the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law around the act and how it affects survivors. She said was inspired to research the topic after she says her women friends were "struggling with forms of mistreatment by sexual partners that weren’t considered part of the recognized repertoire of gender based violence."
The researcher also made note that while the law should compensate survivors after assault as they experience "emotional, financial and physical" harm, this route doesn't always provide people with what they need. Especially for acts like stealthing, where people often question if they were "actually" violated.
"We know that the law doesn’t work for gender violence survivors," she told HuffPost. "Many of the myths and assumptions and forms of skepticism that we see from judges approaching rape victims and other kinds of sexual assault victims are likely to be present in stealthing cases."
One woman, who chose to remain anonymous, recalls her experience with stealthing in the study where she said her assailant dismissed her claims of any wrongdoing.
"I’d been seeing this guy for a couple weeks," she remembers. "We’d been sort of dating and we were hooking up at his house and he was like, 'Oh, I wanna have sex without a condom.' And I was like, I’m really not OK with that, I’m currently not on birth control. My exact words were, 'That’s not negotiable.' [I told him,] 'If that’s a problem with you that’s fine. I’ll leave.'"
Nonetheless, the man removed the condom midway through sex without any consent, she said, which left her "obviously upset."
The woman, who works as a political staffer in New York, said she later tried to have a conversation with her partner after it happened. But he simply brushed it off and told her not to "worry about it."
"We know that the law doesn’t work for gender violence survivors."
— Alexandra Brodsky
"That stuck with me because [he’d] literally proven [himself] to be unworthy of [my] trust," she told Brodsky. "There is no situation in which this is something I agreed to do. Obviously the part that really freaked me out ... was that it was such a blatant violation of what we’d agreed to. I set a boundary. I was very explicit."
But while some men may see this act as no big deal, others have been convicted of sex crimes for this risky move.
In mid-January, a 47-year-old man in Switzerland was charged with rape after he took his condom off without his partner knowing, Glamour reported.
And in the U.K., it's a clear sexual offense.
"This comes down to a discussion about 'conditional consent,'" Dr. Sinead Ring of the University of Kent told Broadly when the Swiss case took place.
"If it's proved the woman consented to sex with a condom and he changed the circumstances under which she'd consented, it's quite possible he'd be convicted of rape."
However, Ring shared similar thoughts to Brodsky about the law, saying that a conviction ultimately comes down to whether or not the jury has a clear understanding of rape and doesn't give in to false myths around the topic.
In Canada, Dalhousie law professor Elaine Craig recently said in a draft paper for the Canadian Bar Review that Judge Gregory Lenehan, who in March acquitted Halifax cab driver Bassam Al-Rawi of sexual assault, unfairly stereotyped the complainant as a "promiscuous party girl."
"Judge Lenehan's speculation, implausible conclusions and legally incorrect reasoning were informed by the stereotype that unchaste women, or promiscuous party girls, will consent to sex with anyone,'' Craig wrote in the legal paper.. "How could such a pornographic, hypersexualized account of human female behaviour arise in a legal proceeding in 2017?''
"The logic of this stereotype turns on the assumption that drunk women will have sex with anyone, anywhere, any time,'' she later added.
The educator has also called for mandatory sexual assault training for judges.
The Crown has responded by saying it will consider appealing the case if it can be proven that Lenehan made multiple mistakes in his ruling.
Thankfully, with women like Craig and Brodsky having no qualms about speaking up, the hope is that more and more people will become aware of violating acts like stealthing, let go of the stereotypes and taboos around sexual assault and become more empathetic and understanding of survivors.