We need to talk about ‘stealthing’ - Alex Cole-Hamilton
For those who are not aware, stealthing is defined as the act of removing or tampering with a barrier method of contraception such as a condom during sex without the other person’s prior consent or knowledge.
In May’s case, one of the accusers told the court, “I would not have had sex with him without a condom. I felt completely violated.”
Yet while this was a landmark case, that does not mean that this is not a frequent problem. When I met with sexual health campaign group CERT a few weeks ago, one of the biggest takeaways from our meeting is the degree to which stealthing occurs.
The work that they have conducted reveals that 16 per cent of individuals surveyed have experienced stealthing personally whilst over a third know someone who has experienced it.
It is a serious crime that violates the victim’s autonomy and choices about their body. It also has severe consequences, from physical repercussions such as the risk of unwanted pregnancy and the transmission of STIs to lasting psychological ones like trauma and negative mental health impacts.
Another victim of stealthing told CERT that: “I think myself and everyone I know has felt disgusting and violated after it. You feel uncomfortable in your own body, knowing you didn’t consent.”
Horrifyingly there are even online communities dedicated to teaching and encouraging its perpetration. One of the biggest issues surrounding stealthing is the stark lack of public awareness and understanding. As Rape Crisis Scotland put it, there is a “real gap between public understanding or expectation of what [sexual violence] looks like and the reality, and this causes real problems, especially for survivors.”
The fact that lots of people are not informed about stealthing results in misconceptions and diminishment of the graveness of the crime. It also means that victims may feel they run the risk of stigma, or that they will face difficulties in reporting it and obtaining a conviction for the offence.
Whilst awareness of stealthing is beginning to reach public consciousness, in part due to its acknowledgement in popular culture such as in the ground-breaking TV show I May Destroy You, there is clearly still so much further we need to go.
That is why I am joining campaigners’ calls for a widespread public awareness campaign in Scotland that informs the public about the nature and repercussions of stealthing. Our sex education in secondary schools and colleges also needs to be re-evaluated to ensure that when appropriate, when young people are taught about sex, our teachers cover things like stealthing.
Stealthing is a reflection of a society in which sexual violence permeates at every level, and it is women who disproportionately suffer as a result. It is crucial that we deal with stealthing in Scotland, and act to improve awareness and education around it. We must do this to ensure current victims of this abhorrent crime receive the support and justice they deserve, and to prevent it happening in the first place.
To learn more about the CERT campaign visit certscotland.com. If you think you may be affected by the issues discussed in this article, please visit www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk for information and support