Last month, HuffPost wrote up a damning study of “stealthing,” the practice of non-consensual condom removal in both gay and straight communities. Alexandra Brodsky’s study explored the after-effects of stealthing on the people who had experienced it, but focused predominantly on potential legal responses to the act.
Her study came just three months after a Swiss court charged a man with rape for stealthing a woman ― but, after appealing the charge, that same man was successful in having his charge lessened from rape to defilement Tuesday. As Broadly’s Leila Ettachfini wrote, “The case may not have set the precedent of stealthing as rape, but it does set the precedent of the practice as criminal.”
Many HuffPost readers responded to our piece in April by saying that stealthing is very much a form of rape. “It is the type of rape when you put someone else’s safety at risk for your own selfish wishes,” one woman wrote on Facebook. “This is rape. No question about it,” wrote another.
At the same time, many disagree ― including the women from Brodsky’s study. One woman instead chose to call it “rape adjacent.” This same woman was also a survivor of a separate rape aside from the stealthing experience, and said, “I personally did not feel harmed to the same degree [as rape]. [But this] feels violent.”
To get an idea of what that experience is like, and how victims of stealthing felt about it ― and whether they consider it to be an act of sexual violence ― HuffPost reached out to readers to get firsthand accounts and their own thoughts.
It seems that, overall, whether it’s defined as rape is less important than victims feeling heard and supported.
Check out the responses to our callout below.
(All names have been changed for anonymity.)
Alice, F, 32
I didn’t know that this was a thing with a name, but around 10 years ago when I was in college, I was dating a guy about 10 years older than me. He did this to me while we were having sex, I didn’t notice until after, I got upset and he made me feel like I was being crazy and overreacting. Then I got pregnant and had to have an abortion.
I never considered it rape or sexual assault because I had given consent to have sex, I just assumed I had made a poor choice in sleeping with someone who was untrustworthy and didn’t respect me that much. I was such a silly young girl at the time, I really put all the blame on myself for making a terrible choice in a partner. Now that I have read a few articles on the apparent frequency of this happening to women, I think my mind is changing a bit. I still don’t know if I would consider it rape or assault, but it sure as hell should be illegal.
Daniel, M, 26
In very late 2016, while living (briefly) in San Francisco, I met a man at a bar and we had an immediate connection. One thing led to another as it so often does and I brought him home. Before things got too heated, he informed me that he was HIV+, undetectable. Having volunteered as an HIV/AIDS educator for most of my adult life and in over 10 countries, I knew the risk, but I also knew it was minimal and so I had no problem with that as long as he used protection and he did. Or so I thought.
He rolled on the condom as usual and we began. In this case, I was the receiving partner. Before finishing, he removed the condom, which I was not aware [of] until after all was said and done. I was very upset and asked him to leave. To this day, I still only know his first name.
In late February, I got very, very sick and went to my doctor and was diagnosed as HIV+. Chances are, the only way I could have gotten it was from this interaction.
I don’t consider it sexual assault or rape. I don’t feel violated because I consented to the encounter and I enjoyed it up until I found out I was betrayed. And that’s exactly how I feel ― betrayed.
Nina, F, 50
When I was 16, I had sex for the first time. We used a condom. I saw him put it on. I felt it with my hand.
A couple years later, I was again getting intimate with the same man. I said, “You will need to use a condom.” He said, “I didn’t use one last time.” I said, “Yes, you did. I saw you. I felt it with my hand.” He said, “I took it off before we had sex. I know what I am doing.” Needless to say, I was like ... you have got to be fucking kidding me. I left immediately. This was the greatest betrayal of trust that I have ever experienced. I imagine the what ifs ... like pregnant at 16 with a drug dealer as the father. This should be a criminal offense.
I would definitely see it as a form of sexual assault or rape.
Rachel, F, 39
My first experience with a guy “stealthing” was when I was 17 years old and he was 20. After sex, he led me to believe that the condom had come off and was lost inside me. I was horrified to have a condom stuck inside me, so I asked my mom to take me to a doctor. The doctor examined me and found no condom.
Only after seeing a doctor and confirming there was no condom stuck inside me, did the guy admit to pulling the condom off during sex. He put me through the horror of having to tell my mother what happened and a physical examination to hide his dirty deed. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last abusive thing he did to me over the months we dated, but I eventually got away from him and never looked back.
I consented to sex with him, so I didn’t consider it rape, but I consented only to having sex with a condom. (I don’t use the word rape lightly. I was brutally raped in my late 20s.) His removing the condom and putting my health at risk for STDs or possibly ruining my life with a pregnancy is sexual assault to me. I felt violated and humiliated by him. I still feel that way about it 22 years later.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.