Inside non-consensual condom removal and the impact on victims
Teanna Jagdatt // Contributor
Alisha Samnani // Opinions Editor
About one year ago, *Grace had given consent to her current boyfriend, deciding that it was the right time for them to have sex. She finally felt comfortable with him and figured that they would be together for a long time. Both had discussed the contraceptive approach they wanted to take beforehand, and she insisted on using a condom because birth control was not an option for her. It wasn’t until the day after they had sex that her boyfriend revealed he had removed the condom partway through. “He told me that he figured we would keep going anyways, so he didn’t feel the need to mention it to me,” she recalled. “He claimed it had broken on its own.”
Unfortunately, Grace’s story is not unique. On the website The Experience Project, one man created a forum for other men to share a “comprehensive guide” on how to commit this act, commonly referred to as “stealthing.” The website was created by the “Bareback Brotherhood,” a group of men who share tips and detailed instructions on how to secretly remove a condom during sex.
As Alexandra Brodsky, a legal fellow at the National Women’s Law Center describes in her report for the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, “the act of stealthing is known as one partner putting on a condom, and then removing it either before or during sexual intercourse without [their] partner’s knowledge or consent.”
Cases of non-consensual condom removal have become more common in Canada and the United States. A 2017 CBC report followed Haley, a 20-year-old woman from Edmonton who, after consenting to sex with a man she trusted, realized he had removed the condom intentionally.
While the focus tends to be on female victims of stealthing, it’s important to recognize that women are not the only ones affected. In an interview for NBC news, vice president of victim services for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) Brian Pinero explained that stealthing is a problem in both gay and heterosexual communities. “We need to talk about everybody, not just one group because sexual assault affects everybody,” said Pinero.
Stealthing poses risks regarding sexual health. Victims can be exposed to sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies. In 2006, a Nova Scotia man named Craig Hutchinson attempted to save his failing relationship with his then-girlfriend by poking holes into her condoms to get her pregnant. Once impregnated, Hutchinson revealed what he had done in a series of text messages, causing his partner to take him to court. In 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 7-0 to convict Hutchinson on one count of aggravated sexual assault, on the basis that Hutchinson’s partner was deprived of her ability to consent. Hutchinson was sentenced to 18 months in prison, and his name was placed on the National Sex Offender Registry.
It’s clear that the shame and sense of violation felt by Grace and Haley is a shared experience amongst many victims of stealthing. “After that experience, I couldn’t even look at guys the same,” said Grace. “It was like trust wasn’t an option for me to give to anyone. I was kind of just stuck with it.” The exposure of stories like the above resulted in enough awareness to get The Experience Project to take down and block all access to the stealthing forum.
Whether stealthing has happened to you, or someone you know, it’s important that stories like these don’t go unheard. Talk to someone and tell your story. You’re not the only one.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the interviewee