Stealthing: The Silent Sexual Assault

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This article contains themes about sexual assault, coercion and incremental consent which may be difficult to read or triggering to some readers. Readers in need can seek support from the following services or visit our Creating a Safe Space page to see a full list of support services.

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Words by Laura, 25 NSW

I want to talk about stealthing, and the fact that it triggers my spellcheck begins to demonstrate why.

Stealthing is a type of sexual assault. It occurs when sex has been consented to on the condition that a condom is worn, but the person wearing it then covertly takes the condom off and continues without it.

It may seem a small act considering the sex has already been consented to. It’s also something that is hard to prove – how do you know it didn’t just come off by accident, and that the person wasn’t just so caught up in the moment that they didn’t notice?

These are all things that the man who stealthed me said.

It was ‘lost to the heat of passion’, we’d been drinking, but I was on the pill right? (I wasn’t).

Of course, it was an accident, he’d gone to get a condom, didn’t that prove he wouldn’t have taken it off on purpose? (It didn’t).

Why was I getting so upset, maybe I was projecting, did I just regret saying yes and was now reacting badly to ‘great sex’? (I wasn’t, and it definitely wasn’t.)

None of his excuses held water. His act was a conscious decision that a slight increase in his pleasure was more valuable than my mental and physical health.

This was the final straw in a night of incremental boundary pushes that turned the experience from a first date into a nightmare. He kept touching me despite my requests for personal space, pushed for one more drink when I hinted at leaving, and kept restarting the kiss when I stopped it. When I started to leave because I was hungry, he invited me to his apartment (across the road…) for food, and swore we would only make out on the couch. I said I didn’t want to have sex that night. Thirty seconds inside his front door, his hand was in my underwear.

Writing this, I marvel now that I didn’t leave sooner. But it just didn’t feel that black and white – despite the red flags, I was having fun. We talked about feminism and writing and had so much in common. He was funny and cute and had a great accent. It wasn’t until I was crying in my Uber that I looked back and thought, wow, that wasn’t ok.

In heterosexual dating, the thrill of successfully ‘convincing’ a woman to go out, have one more drink, kiss, have sex, etc. has created a scene where the onus is on her to decisively stop, rather than on him to check that his attention is welcomed. Consent is pivotal, but how can we ever know true consent within a culture where the persuading of women is positively eroticised?

Too many friends have stories like mine, when they felt they had to “fuck their way out”. It’s not always fight or flight – sometime we freeze. Sometimes we acquiesce, because no other option seems available. Sometimes we don’t know if we said ‘stop’ that he would, and going along in the moment is more mentally palatable than saying no and finding out he wouldn’t. Especially when our smaller nos have been ignored.

We know that #notallmen are rapists, but ask any woman about their experience with sexual assault and she will likely have a story for you, either about herself or someone close to her. So if sexual assault (in one form or another) has affected #ALLwomen, then where are all the perpetrators?

One of the hardest things about my experience was the self-doubt. This man had invaded not only my body, but also my mind. Was I overreacting? Had it truly been an accident? In the days following, I reached out to friends, an online support community, my GP and a psychologist, and they helped me come to terms with what had happened. Most valuable to me were those who validated my interpretation of events – when a condom comes off during sex, it most commonly will be pushed further inside the body of the other person. It will not end up on the floor on the other side of the room.

The man who assaulted me told me he was a feminist and would never have done this, and the terrifying thing is, I honestly think he believed it. Almost a year later, and I’m still proud that I called him out straight away. I’d let too many things pass by me that night, and though the harm had been done, I felt so much stronger having said something.

To this day, he probably still doesn’t think he did anything wrong. But I have to live with it, and maybe – because I spoke up, he won’t do it again. 

Illustration by AileenYou can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc

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