Rape by any other name: the toxic practice of stealthing


Non-consensual condom removal, also called “stealthing” first came to the public’s attention in a big way when Alexandra Brodsky wrote an article exploring this dangerous and toxic practice in 2017.

Of course, stealthing had been around long enough to justify the publication of Brodsky’s article, and even five years after its publication, the seediest parts of the internet are still rife with advice on how to sneakily remove a condom without a partner’s knowledge.

While it may be called something different – an activity that sounds akin to something Tom Cruise’s character in Mission Impossible might do – there is absolutely no doubt that stealthing is rape, plain and simple.

Why would someone commit a violation of this magnitude?

While stealthing isn’t as overt as what is traditionally thought of as rape (by its very nature, stealthing is something that is done without the knowledge of a partner – on the other hand, victims of rape and other types of sexual violence absolutely know they are being violated) it is certainly rape in another outfit.

Says Katie Russel, spokesperson for Rape Crisis in the UK, “Ultimately what we’re talking about is rape. It’s not something that’s a bit cheeky or naughty to try to get away with – this is something serious that can have really damaging impacts for other person’s whole life and health.”

When it comes to deciding about reporting stealthing as a sexual offence, many victims are unsure whether stealthing constitutes a violation akin to rape, as there often was a measure of consent involved when the decision was made to engage in sex with the perpetrator.

However, it is important to note that Brodsky calls stealthing a rape-adjacent violation that is worthy of consideration by the legal system, as it implicitly takes the agency away from a person who agreed to sex, on the condition that it takes place with the use of a condom.

Stealthing is often justified by those that do it by saying that men have a natural urge to “spread their seed” or “breed”, although it is crucial to note that stealthing occurs both during straight sex and in gay sexual encounters.

Perhaps the most notorious convicted gay perpetrator of stealthing is Darryl Rowe, a Scotsman who deliberately infected at least five men with HIV between 2015 and 2016, before being sent to prison for life in 2018.

Stealthing formed a central part of Rowe’s violations, and he, horrifically, let his victims know that he had infected them weeks after the fact, ensuring that they couldn’t access preventative post-exposure prophylactic treatment like PEP.

Although Rowe didn’t always remove the condom he promised to wear, and often used condoms that were pricked to infect his victims, his actions still constitute a gross violation that boils down to rape.

Avoiding this dangerous practice can be difficult, as victims often don’t realise what is happening while it’s happening. Many victims are often hesitant to make a case against the perpetrator, because of the fuzziness of the accusation they’ll be bringing. With this being said, sexual crimes often continue because of these crimes so regularly going unreported.

Of course, if you are an HIV-negative, sexually active gay or bisexual man who has multiple partners it should be standard practice anyway to use PrEP, the HIV prevention pill, which will also protect you from the intended effect of stealthing.

If you suspect that you might have been a victim of stealthing or any other sexual crime, please contact Shukumisa. This group of NGOs, community-based organisations, research institutions and legal services aims to address the scourge of sexual violence in South Africa.

Remember, you are not in any way responsible for the reprehensible actions of an individual you trusted. Stealthing is rape, and absolutely goes against the inherent core value of good sex: enthusiastic consent.

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