A lesser-known form of sexual assault has recently taken over the internet following the release of a paper by Alexandra Brodsky explaining the relatively new phenomenon.
The sex "trend" has been dubbed "stealthing" by internet users who discussed their experiences assaulting people in this way on an online forum.
Essentially, stealthing occurs during intercourse when an individual discreetly removes a condom mid-sex, without the consent of the other person.
This action opens the victim up to many unwanted results, including unplanned pregnancies and even STDs and other infectious diseases.
Because stealthing has gained traction so quickly, it's likely many people are realizing they might have, in fact, experienced stealthing firsthand. So in that case, what should a person do if they think they're a victim of stealthing? What are their options?
Elite Daily spoke to a few legal experts and mental health experts, to find out a basic plan of action potential victims of stealthing can take:
What should someone do first?
First and foremost, immediately following stealthing (or the later realization that you were a victim of stealthing), you must remember that this despicable act is not your fault.
Allison Abrams, a psychotherapist in NYC, tells Elite Daily,
The first thing any victim should do is to remember — regardless of what the perpetrator tries to tell you — that any sexual act without a partner's consent is sexual assault. Agreeing to have sex with someone with a condom is NOT the same as agreeing to have sex without a condom. Do not let anyone tell you differently.
Because the removal of a condom during intercourse may open you up to STDs/STIs, other infections and even unplanned pregnancy, visiting a doctor should be a top priority.
"It's important to get checked by a doctor immediately if you believe you're a victim of stealthing, even if you're unsure," says Dr. Greg Kushnick, PsyD, a licensed psychologist in NYC.
Erika Martinez, PsyD, a licensed psychologist, also emphasizes the importance of a prompt doctor visit, suggesting you get checked for STDs. Doctors can even administer different types of medicines that will prevent you from getting diseases, or getting pregnant.
"If you're considering pursuing legal recourse, though, you'll likely have to see a doctor at a rape unit that's accustomed to gathering biological forensic evidence," she adds.
Also, if you can, physically talking to a trusted person pretty soon following a stealthing incident (or soon following the realization you were stealthed in the past) is another important step. Abrams even suggests calling a rape crisis hotline.
Kushnick also emphasizes the importance of seeking out help from a mental health expert, as "stealthing can elicit the same negative impact on the victim's mental health as rape."
"Debriefing in a timely manner can reduce some of the traumatic psychological effects of stealthing," he says.
Stealthing may cause post-traumatic shock either through memories of the event, self-doubt, having to wait for STI/D results, or pregnancy results/ planning/prevention. For any women experiencing post-traumatic shock, she should seek services from a therapist that specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Most CBT practitioners will have a three to four month intervention plan that will address healing from the trauma.
Though seeking out mental health care won't reverse what happened, it will make dealing with stealthing's repercussions significantly easier.
"Just because the laws have not been updated to treat stealthing as rape doesn't mean that it's impact should be minimized," Kushnick says.
So while some state laws haven't accounted for the specifics of stealthing just yet (as the "trend" is still relatively new legally), that doesn't mean a legal case can't hold up in court (should you feel safe and comfortable bringing it to court).
Julie Rendelman, a criminal defense attorney, told Elite Daily,
If an individual were to 'stealth' another person knowing that he had some type of infectious venereal disease, he could be charged with a crime. Under New York Public Health Law, Section 2307, a person who, knowing himself or herself to be infected with an infectious venereal disease, has sexual intercourse with another, is guilty of a misdemeanor. In addition, it is possible that such an act could rise to the level of Reckless Endangerment, a more serious criminal charge.
Jeff Swartz, an associate professor of law with the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, explains how a stealthing victim may be able to file a civil suit against the stealther:
The basis of the claim would be, even though the victim gave consent for the contact, she did so with conditions where the offender violated the conditions of the consent. By violating the conditions, the consent is no longer valid and thus the conduct is without consent.
In other words, you consented to sex with a condom, not sex without a condom. Therefore, a stealther who removed a condom mid-sex is violating what you'd originally consented to.
Swartz says in the case of a civil suit like this, the victim could file for compensatory damages (money) and punitive damages (other sorts of rewards when money isn't enough).
What should someone do moving forward?
Though it's blatantly clear women shouldn't even have to take preventative measures against things like rape, stealthing and other forms of sexual assault (because people shouldn't be committing these heinous acts in the first place), there are some measures you can take to protect yourself.
Silva explains that keeping an eye out for certain "predatorial" guys could help you steer clear of anyone with ulterior motives:
The 'predatorial type' ... seeks out unsuspecting prey and manipulates them by capitalizing on their vulnerabilities for the predator's selfish gain. Their exertion of a false sense of power masks their own weakness and self-hatred.
Martinez pushes the importance of being straightforward, especially with a new sex partner: "The best thing to do is remain vigilant, especially when you're intimate with a new partner."
Along the same lines, Abrams also says,
There is nothing wrong with checking to make sure the condom is still on each time prior to penetration. If he objects in any way, or tries to make you feel bad, this is a telling character trait and should absolutely be a red flag.
Finally, Kushnick says "adding the topic of stealthing to conversations about consensual sex and condom use with a potential partner to put it in the male mind that it is equivalent to rape" is an important preventative measure to take before having sex.
Though it's totally normal to feel angry and resentful after realizing you were stealthed, you should approach any future contact with the stealther very carefully.
In fact, Dr. Wyatt Fisher, PsyD, a licensed psychologist in Colorado, explains to Elite Daily,
The first step would be to cease all contact with the perpetrator. Safety is top priority, so once that is ensured they can choose to either let the perpetrator know it's been reported or let them find out through the local police contacting them.
But of course, as Kushnick says, "the way you address the perpetrator of stealthing depends on how well you know the perpetrator and what your mental state is to handle the conversation."
So if you do feel you can safely speak to the perpetrator about their actions, Silva says,
For those that are immediately aware and NOT in physical danger and for those that discover it later, express your anger or disillusionment with him. You may not get the answers you want to hear, but at least you can minimize some of the disbelief and future mistrust.
Dr. Fisher explains that, as a victim moves away from the traumatic experience, it's important to remember that the emotional turmoil they continue to feel is completely validated:
A woman who experiences stealthing has been violated both physically and emotionally. The careless actions of the man has put her at risk for possible pregnancy and disease. Therefore, she has every right to feel trauma from this experience and every right to report it to local authorities for justice.
And if you feel comfortable doing so, moving forward, it's important that insight about how stealthing actually affects women doesn't go unheard.
Silva suggests speaking out:
Tell your story. While the physical scars may no longer appear, the psychological scars may remain and disable your dating and sex life. You may come up with reasons for why it happened, you may have to deal with the consequences on your own and/or you may have to deal with mistrust issues for some time. In the future, you may regret not taking legal action.
Abrams also explains exactly how refusing to be silent about this topic can actually help to stop or prevent this awful behavior: "The more we write about it, call it out, share stories, advocate for legal repercussions — essentially stop normalizing it — the more likely we are to prevent it from happening, or at least reduce its likelihood."
Whether stealthing just happened to you or you're realizing the truth about a sexual encounter from the past, you have options. Talk to someone, and tell your story if you feel comfortable.
You're definitely not the only one.