A California bill would make it illegal to remove a condom during sex without your partner’s consent. Lawmakers sent the legislation to Governor Gavin Newsom weeks ago. If he signs it, California would become the first state in the nation to outlaw this practice, which is called “stealthing.”
A law student at Yale named Alexandra Brodsky took an in-depth look at stealthing a few years ago. “Rape-adjacent” is how one victim described the practice. Brodsky’s research informed California’s new proposed law.
Brodsky is now a civil rights attorney and author of “Sexual Justice: Supporting Victims, Ensuring Due Process, and Resisting the Conservative Backlash.”
If the bill is signed into law, stealthing would be considered sexual battery and be tried as a civil offense. Brodsky tells KCRW that it would allow survivors of non-consensual condom removal to directly sue the person who hurt them. The lawsuit could result in financial damages, including coverage of medical bills, psychotherapy, or paid time off work.
Brodsky explains that stealthing represents a betrayal of trust between partners who had previously agreed to consensual sex.
“It was their partner taking a decision away from them that was their right to make. … They felt it was really about their ability to decide who they have sex with, and how they have sex with them that was at risk here. And that's the underlying violation in all forms of sexual violence, whether it starts with a consensual encounter or not.”
Brodsky argues that this legislation, at its core, will help empower survivors after their assaults.
“Criminal prosecution can be really disempowering for survivors because they don't call the shots. It's police and prosecutors who decide whether a case moves forward,” Brodsky explains. “With a civil bill like this California bill, it's the victim themselves that makes that decision.”
The legislation would also help shape how society views domestic violence. Brodsky points out that many still believe that sexual activity must be a private matter.
“That's exactly the argument that people use for a very, very long time to say that there should be no legal restrictions on domestic violence, that there shouldn't be ... legal restrictions on spousal rape, because [of] the idea that it was happening behind a bedroom door,” she says. “That's a really dangerous idea. I think it's a really sexist idea because historically, what that's meant is that the sphere in which women were allowed to exist, the home was entirely unprotected by the law.”
Brodsky says law shapes public ethics and reflects what the community deems is wrong. “And I got this funny message actually on Instagram, from a guy who said that I was ruining things for everyone. And what I took from that is that he thought that stealthing was this fun thing that he liked to do. And now it was going to be harder for him to do it. My response to that is, ‘Good. If this is your idea of fun, I'm glad I'm ruining it for you.’”