06:42, May 22 123 0 theguardian.com

2017-05-22 06:42:03

 

Stealthing isn’t a ‘sex trend’. It’s sexual assault, and we should call it out as such

A few months ago I got chatting to a guy on Tinder. He was an architect who came across as intelligent and polite, and we set a date to meet. We were getting on really well when he asked me to go back to his house and I thought, why not? Later on, sex began consensually. I wanted him to wear a condom and he did. During sex he asked if he could take the condom off and I told him no. A few minutes later he asked again; again I said no. Noticing me checking that the condom was still on, he turned me to face away from him. Immediately after sex I realised that he had removed it and ejaculated inside me.

“Stealthing” is the pop culture name to describe a “new sex trend” reported to be “on the rise”. It refers to the act of deliberately removing a condom during sex without your partner’s knowledge or consent. This catchy phrase doesn’t actually mean there’s a new trend but coins a new term for a kind of sexual assault. Following a landmark case in Switzerland where a man was given a 12-month suspended sentence for removing a condom without his partner’s knowledge or consent, and a recent report by Yale law graduate Alexandra Brodsky, stealthing is attracting more mainstream attention. But, despite this, no one has so far been found guilty of it in the UK.

On realising what had happened to me during my Tinder date, I rushed to get my things and leave his house. When I asked him if he had taken off the condom, he didn’t give a clear answer and appeared confused by my outrage and upset. I took a cab to a nearby friend’s flat and went straight to her shower, not even thinking that I was washing away evidence of an assault. I wasn’t aware a crime had been committed – I just felt violated, and my instinctive reaction was to wash it off.

My feelings of violation weren’t caused by the experience of unprotected sex itself, despite having been exposed to potential STIs and pregnancy; it was my perpetrator’s abuse of my boundaries and his perceived entitlement to my body. I didn’t realise I had been sexually assaulted until a nurse, giving me the morning-after pill, explained it to me.

Brodsky’s Yale study finds survivors of stealthing struggling to recognise their experience as sexual assault, writing that one woman describes her experience as “rape-adjacent” for lack of better language.

The nurse called the initial response police, who again outlined how what had happened may have been against the law, and passed me on to the Sapphire team, the Met police’s specialist sex crimes unit. I was asked to give a video recorded statement, but before this happened two female police officers from the unit took me into a room to ask me if I was sure I wanted to go through with it.

At the time, I felt overwhelmingly guilty for consenting to sex in the first place and my self-doubt grew when police officers asked me repeatedly “if I was sure” and if I was aware I could “ruin a man’s life”. Ironic at a time that I was still waiting for my HIV-Aids and STI test results. One officer even offered to “bring the guy in and give him a scare”, as an alternative to me pressing any charges through official means. They told me about a case of paedophilia they had been working on for years, which still had no resolution, implying that even if I did go through with the charges, it was unlikely that I would ever be successful in court with what they clearly considered a non-issue.

Much of the problem still comes down to attitudes and myths surrounding women and sex. What happened to me was a violation, but it’s clear that the law can only do so much when law enforcement is still contaminated by rape myths. During my video statement the onus was placed on me as the victim to protect myself from rape. “Did it feel different after he’d taken it off?” I was asked. Arguably irrelevant, as by that point the assault would have already happened. “How many drinks had you had?” Yes, police are still asking women to justify the amount of alcohol they had before being sexually assaulted.

The problem is amplified by the prevailing assumption that women lie about sexual assault, despite the fact that Rape Crisis UK reports that false allegations are incredibly rare. The more serious issue is that the vast majority of survivors choose not to report to the police.

My experience with the police abruptly ended after my perpetrator was called in to give his statement. He said that the condom fell off without his knowledge and all charges were dropped. I was left with no real way to move forward.

Dr Sinéad Ring of the University of Kent says that the agonisingly low conviction rates in cases of rape are due to initial obstacles encountered by victims – namely the police and the CPS. Once a rape case makes it to court, the conviction rate is relatively high – 57.9% in the UK last year. But to make it to this point, there must be more evidence than a victim’s account of the assault. In cases where sex began as consensual, such as with stealthing, this is near impossible.

With no successful convictions for stealthing under British conditional consent laws, even though wider society may be catching up with the idea that rape is about consent and not force, law enforcement still needs to rid itself of pervasive stereotypes about sexual assault. If awareness around stealthing improves, and it is recognised as a crime, then we need to ensure that those who come forward are supported.