At the height of the global pandemic, when countries around the world found themselves in collective lockdown, most of us found ourselves watching Michaela Coel’s critically acclaimed I May Destroy You. The series quickly became a pop phenomenon, sparking a global conversation around sexual consent laws and non-consensual sex acts, including the removal of a condom during sex. For those who weren’t familiar with the term ‘stealthing’ before, Coel’s series saw it come under the spotlight.
The name itself undermines the trauma caused by stealthing. It might sound like your average dating faux pas, joining the likes of ghosting and bread crumbing to suggest the myriad of ways relationships are brought to a close in the modern age. But the fact is stealthing is far more serious and damaging. The act is one that involves sneakily removing a condom during sex, an action that not only revokes someone’s consent, but is also criminal. Now, the ACT has become the first Australian jurisdiction to criminalise the act, as the ABC reports.
The legislation was introduced by Canberra Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee and unanimously passed the ACT Legislative Assembly. Lee said that the change to sexual consent laws would mean the “intentional fraudulent representation” about the use of a condom during sex would be a crime. “The bill amends current consent provisions under the Crimes Act to explicitly state that a person’s consent is negated if it is caused by the intentional misrepresentation by the other person about the use of a condom,” according to the ABC.
As Lee outlined, stealthing not only poses risks in the act itself, but numerous consequences that follow as a result. By removing the condom, the physical and psychological health of victims is at risk through transmission of sexually transmitted infections and disease and unplanned pregnancies, while stealthing also often causes depression, anxiety, and in some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder. “Stealthing is a traumatic thing for any person to go through and I am very proud that the ACT has passed the nation-leading reforms to specifically criminalise this heinous act,” said Lee.
The news of the criminalisation comes after a stealthing case had been before the Victorian courts for more than two years without a result. As Lee explained, she didn’t want the same to happen in the territory: “We cannot wait for cases to come before courts before stealthing is specifically outlawed.” She added, “We need to act proactively and send a clear message to the community that this behaviour is unacceptable, and a crime.”
That stealthing has been criminalised is a major victory, particularly for the victims affected by such sex acts. One in three women and one in five queer men have been the victim of stealthing, according to an Australian study. Of these, female sex workers are particularly at risk. In a Facebook post, Lee wrote: “It [stealthing] is a disgusting act that happens at a vulnerable and intimate time and we, as a community, must make it clear it is unacceptable. Our laws should reflect that.”
It’s a statement that was echoed by ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, who has said: “A strong and clear criminal justice response to sexual offending is important, not only for victims and survivors, but also the entire community.”