The California State Legislature this week approved a measure that would make the state the first to outlaw stealthing, the act of removing a condom during sex without a partner’s consent.
The bill, which was approved unanimously on Tuesday, awaits the signature of Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, who has until Oct. 10 to sign it into law. A spokesman for the governor said his office did not comment on pending bills.
If approved, the measure would amend the state’s civil definition of sexual battery and make stealthing a civil offense, meaning victims could sue their assailants for damages.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia of California, who sponsored the bill, said the measure would give victims another resource to hold assailants accountable. “It would also make it clear that this is not just amoral, but also illegal,” she said in an interview on Thursday.
Ms. Garcia, a Democrat, said that she had tried to pass legislation criminalizing stealthing since 2017, when a Yale University study brought widespread attention to it. But she ran into considerable opposition.
The bill that was approved this week that would make stealthing a civil offense “is a good first step,” Ms. Garcia said. She said she hoped it would lay the groundwork to eventually add stealthing to the state’s criminal code.
A study published in the National Library of Medicine in 2019 reported that 12 percent of women said that they had been a victim of stealthing. Another study that year found that 10 percent of men admitted to removing their condom during intercourse without their partner’s consent.
Alexandra Brodsky, who wrote the 2017 Yale study and is the author of “Sexual Justice,” a book that addresses various forms of institutional response to sexual harassment and assault, said that the measure approved this week could bring “political and personal power” to victims. She said that it would remove any ambiguity surrounding stealthing — which tends to begin with the consensual act of sex — by defining it as illegal.
“Civil remedies are really underutilized,” Ms. Brodsky said, adding that the kinds of remedies civil lawsuits allow for are often more useful to victims.
“There are many survivors who do not want to see the person who hurt them in prison and could really use help covering medical debt or could use help having the resources to see a therapist,” Ms. Brodsky said.
She noted that civil litigation also had a lower standard of evidence, which could make it easier for victims to prove their cases in court.
Similar bills on stealthing have been introduced in New York and in Wisconsin, but neither has passed. Ms. Garcia said she hoped that legislatures across the country would follow suit.
“It is a big week for victims,” she said. “It is a big week for discussions around these issues, and it is a big week to talk about consent.”
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