"Stealthing" is it sexual assault?
Imagine… You go through a travel agent to book yourself a little getaway. You discuss what you’d like to do, and where you’d like to go, and take out travel insurance. Sometime during your trip- that you happen to be really enjoying- you find out your travel agent didn’t organise your travel insurance, as promised. You feel angry and let down; your agent has potentially put you at risk of harm, and what you negotiated before embarking on your trip hasn’t been honoured. The travel agent does not understand why you’re upset; you’re having fun, right? They say, “It’s a really safe place; you have nothing to worry about”.
What would you think if this happened to you? Or someone that you cared about? How do you think that you would feel?
‘Stealthing’ is a newly ‘coined’ term for a non-consensual sexual practice that has been around much longer. It involves the non-consensual removal of a condom during otherwise consensual sexual contact, or a deliberate failure to use a condom, without the awareness of one’s sexual partner, despite an agreement to use a condom being made. Without trivialising the seriousness of ‘stealthing’, the travel scenario above is a metaphor for how disrespectful and harmful the dishonouring of an agreement, made in good faith, can be.
‘Stealthing’ carries serious health and wellbeing risks, including the transmission of STIs and unplanned pregnancy, and also brings with it a substantial psychological and emotional toll for those who have been ‘stealthed’. This would include a loss of autonomy over their own bodies, broken trust and betrayal, and vulnerability.
That said, can ‘stealthing’ be classed as sexual assault?
Whilst there is nothing in the Crimes Act that explicitly classes ‘stealthing’ as an offence, if the terms of a consensual sexual act included condom use, that consent is void if those terms aren’t respected. Just like no one can force you to do certain acts during sex, you have the right to protect your body through only consenting to sex with a condom. Where there is no consent, or where the terms of consent provided has been violated, there is sexual assault. While not yet tested in Australian courts, there are ‘stealthing’ cases currently awaiting prosecution. It’s just not worth it- honour the consent as it’s given to you, and respect your partner’s body, and wishes. To do so is also honouring of yourself.
Thinking of ‘stealthing’?
- You may be charged with a criminal offence
- You may be putting your physical and emotional health at risk
- It’s a disrespectful and potentially harmful behaviour that doesn’t honour the consent given to you by your partner
- Think again- how is it a game, or funny, or whatever, to want to cause harm to another person?
Have you experienced ‘stealthing’?
- You can report to the police. Evidence is best collected within 72 hours of the incident, but you can always report sexual assault that happened to you previously, even if it was a long time ago
- See your GP or local sexual health centre for a check-up, including screening for STIs and pregnancy
- If you believe the person is HIV positive, rapid HIV testing and retroviral medication (PEP) is available, and prevents infection if administered soon after exposure. Visit https://www.getpep.info/get-pep-now/ for more help
- Contact Gippsland CASA on (03) 5134 3922 for support or referral; or, visit casa.org.au/contact-us/find-your-nearest-casa/ to find a service local to you