What is stealthing and what has California decided to do about it?

'This law is the first of its kind in the nation, but I urge other states to follow in California’s direction'

red, orange and yellow condoms in wrappers on a solid yellow background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

At a time in America when sexual and reproductive rights are being challenged, California is attempting to help women and men take back control. The Golden State has officially made stealthing illegal, marking it the first location in the US to do so.

Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who serves California's 58th assembly district, has been pushing for the legislation since 2017. As of October 7, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law (#AB453) that criminalizes the act. As a result, this amends California's civil code, adding the term to the state’s civil definition of sexual battery.

"This law is the first of its kind in the nation, but I urge other states to follow in California’s direction," Assemblywoman Garcia said. "More importantly, I encourage us all to not shy away from important conversations about consent in order to ensure we reduce the number of victims."

This news comes on the heels of the US abortion law challenges in Texas and Mississippi that have been causing great divide throughout the nation and unrest amongst women's rights activists.

What is stealthing?

Stealthing is defined as removing a condom during sexual intercourse without permission. According to two different studies in 2019, both of which are available in the National Library of Medicine (opens in new tab), 12% of women ages 21–30 have reported experience with stealthing and nearly 10% of men reported removing a condom during sex without consent. The paper further indicates that the act involves "elements of both sexual risk and sexual aggression."

Meanwhile, a 2018 survey (opens in new tab) via a Melbourne health clinic found numbers that were staggeringly higher. It uncovered that 32% of women and 19% of men who have sex with men have experienced stealthing. Regardless of location, the issue of consent, or lack thereof, is present among sexual partners. 

“By passing this bill, we are underlining the importance of consent,” Governor Newsom's office said via Twitter.

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What does California's new law mean?

Now, stealthing is a civil offense under state law. Alleged victims will be able to sue perpetrators directly in civil court. The bill does not stipulate the possibility of jail time for stealthing, according to The New York Times (opens in new tab)

What's next?

In California, the governor also approved of a second bill from Assemblywoman Garcia that considers rape of a spouse to be the same as the rape of a non-spouse. This will remove an exemption to the rape law if the victim is married to the alleged perpetrator.

Meanwhile, other states like New York and Wisconsin have advocated for similar bills to #AB453, but nothing has yet to pass.

Where to seek help

In addition to seeking help of law enforcement, there are various organizations that will assist victims of stealthing, particularly the National Domestic Violence Hotline (opens in new tab), which encourages people to text “START” to 88788 or call 1-800-799-7233 should they need the help of an advocate.

Danielle is a writer for woman&home and My Imperfect Life, covering all-things news, lifestyle and entertainment. 

The heart of her time at Future has been devoted to My Imperfect Life, where she's been attuned to the cosmos, new TV shows and relationship trends.  

Before her time at Future, Danielle was the editor of Time Out New York Kids and a news editor at Elite Daily. Her work has also appeared in Domino, Chowhound, amNewYork and Newsday, among other outlets. 

When Danielle is not working, you can usually find her reading a book, coffee at hand, or attempting a new recipe. (Recommendations always welcome!)