Political News

Wisconsin and California lawmakers take aim at 'stealthing'

Posted 7:01 p.m. Wednesday
Updated 7:03 p.m. Wednesday

— Democratic lawmakers in at least two states want to criminalize "stealthing," in which someone removes a condom or another contraceptive device without permission during intercourse.

Wisconsin state Rep. Melissa Sargent and California state Rep. Cristina Garcia both say exposing partners to the risk of a sexually transmitted disease or an unwanted pregnancy without their knowledge amounts to sexual assault and should be treated as such under the law.

"This is rape," Sargent said. "This is nonconsensual sexual assault. We need to call it what it is."

Sargent, of Madison, believes the proposal she introduced this month is the nation's first to address stealthing. The bill would require sexual partners to consent to removing condoms or any other physical device intended to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection.

Sargent said she'd been familiar with the concept of stealthing for years, but didn't know there was a word for it until reading an April article in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law by then-law student Alexandra Brodsky that described the practice and considered possible legal remedies.

Sargent said that since introducing her bill, she's heard from several people in Wisconsin who say they were victims of stealthing.

"Everyone has their own story," she said. "But the common thread is, 'This happened to me. I knew it wasn't right, but I didn't know what to call it.'"

Garcia, of Bell Gardens, introduced a bill Monday that would make intentionally removing or tampering with a condom a form of rape in the nation's most populous state. It doesn't apply to other contraceptive devices.

Garcia's spokeswoman, Teala Scheff, said Garcia herself had been a victim of stealthing years ago. When Garcia saw recent media reports describing the practice, she realized she could take action to prevent it from happening to other people. Garcia announced her bill at a rally with Planned Parenthood, denouncing online forums that have encouraged the practice as a way for a male to assert his right to "spread his seed."

"I hope all the men out there blogging are paying attention because in California, we're going to lead the nation in ending the 'trend' now," she said in a news release.

Democrats control the Legislature and governor's mansion in California. Sargent's bill would need significant bipartisan support to pass Wisconsin's Republican-controlled Legislature.

It's unclear how prevalent stealthing actually is. Sara McGovern, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline, said they've received calls about stealthing but do not track calls by topic and have no data on the frequency or timespan of such calls.

Brodsky's article drew on interviews with anonymous victims of stealthing and accounts of stealthing posted online.

Google searches for "stealthing" spiked after Brodsky used it in April, but the term was around well before that.

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Follow Cara Lombardo on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CaraRLombardo

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