The experiences of women show that men who resort to stealthing routinely claim that it is about “removing a barrier to their pleasure”, and do not think of stealthing as wrongdoing.

Why stealthing removing condoms during sex without consent amounts to rape
news #MeToo Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - 11:17

“He removed the condom halfway through. I realised that he was not wearing the condom when I saw it in his hand and he was inside me. I remember freezing and feeling like I had just gone cold,” says Manjari* a 27-year-old media professional. Manjari was victim to ‘stealthing’ – an act where a man removes the condom during intercourse without the woman’s consent. The Me Too movement in India has also driven a conversation about predators who resort to stealthing and end up gaslighting women who confront their violators. And while several men online resort to ‘oh-but-how-is-that-wrong’ rhetoric, several lawyers that TNM spoke to say that stealthing amounts to rape.

Shreya, a journalist, bravely came out with her horrifying experience with a man, who resorted to stealthing. On Twitter, she spoke about how the man in question had violated consent and put her health in jeopardy. Shreya’s heart-wrenching tweets about the incident also inspired other women to voice similar experiences.

“It’s absolutely an assault, even if you’re are in a relationship,” Shreya says, speaking to TNM. “Being in a relationship does not mean you have consented to it. Stealthing can lead to so many issues. You are at risk of pregnancy, STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and miscarriages. The man is putting your life at risk. Several lawyers made a case that it could be constituted as rape,” Shreya says.

‘Men believe this is not wrong’

“When I confronted the man who violated my consent, he was very defensive and he did not care about what happened to me. When I spoke about it on Twitter, I got trolled. People said that I was petty and vengeful. All kinds of anti-sex-worker, anti-woman abuses were hurled at me. Stealthing is something that MRA (men’s rights activists) guys do. It’s a way they punish women who have casual sex,” Shreya says.

The experiences of women in heterosexual relationships show that men who resort to stealthing routinely claim that it is about “removing a barrier to their pleasure”, and do not think of stealthing as wrongdoing. In Manjari’s case, when she confronted her college boyfriend about his act, he tried to mollify her with declarations of love.

“He said, ‘I love you and I don’t want any barriers between us.’ I did not know how to respond to it. I told him that I was no longer in the mood to be intimate with him and I went home,” Manjari recalls. “I did not pick up his calls for two days. Later, when I met him in college, I asked him how he could put me at risk and how he could even think about not asking me. He kept telling me he loves me and that I was overreacting. He was the first man I ever had sex with and I didn’t know how to react,” she adds.

Health consequences of stealthing

While Manjari got back with her boyfriend later, she realised that he had been removing the condom every time they were intimate. She broke up with him, but they got back together once again several months later, when he promised not to do it anymore. A few months later, he convinced Manjari that she should take oral contraceptives instead of them using condoms.

“I was totally opposed to it but he told me that he too had to “compromise” for so long. I had never been in a relationship with anyone so I thought that’s how couples sort things out,” Manjari says.

Soon, she began experiencing changes in her menstrual cycle. Manjari says she also experienced severe pain during her period. “I was also putting on a lot of weight. One day, I got pregnant. He dumped me saying he could not deal with the emotional fallout. We had made plans of getting married and staying together but it was all just a game to him,” Manjari says.

Just like Manjari, Deepa*, an IT Professional recalls being violated by her boyfriend. “We were together for five years. This was what broke us apart. One night, we had come back from a nightclub. It was a Saturday and I went back to his house. We were having sex and then he took off his condom. I realised that only after it was all over. I was so shocked. I remember pushing him off of me and running into the bathroom. I was panicking. I washed my private parts thinking it will all go away. I was feeling so sick. I decided to have a shower. I washed myself four times and I realised it was useless. I was still going to feel horrible so I went to my friend’s house,” Deepa recalls.

Deepa never spoke to him after that incident. She says he called her multiple times and even tried to reach out to her friends. “I couldn’t forgive him. Over the years, I was finding it very difficult to be in a relationship with men. It took me a long time to get over what happened. Now, I am happy with my girlfriend. We have a very trusting relationship and I don’t have nightmares about being raped any longer. She has helped me heal in many ways,” Deepa adds.

Both Manjari and Deepa say they did not know how to react or get over the incident because it happened with someone they trusted completely. “It was only when I started dating my girlfriend that I realised that what he did amounts to rape. She told me about consent and that I felt violated because I did not consent to it. It took me so long to come to terms with whatever happened,” she adds.

Stealthing is rape, because the woman did not consent to it

Speaking to TNM, Akila Ramalingam, a Chennai-based lawyers says that according to the Indian Penal Code, stealthing does amount to rape.

Consent is defined in Explanation 2 to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC): “An unequivocal voluntary agreement when the woman by words, gestures or any form of verbal or non-verbal communication, communicates willingness to participate in the specific sexual act.”

According to Akila, one of the crucial parts of the definition of consent is that it very specific to the sexual act.

“If a woman has consented to intercourse on the condition that the man wears a condom, and later he removes it during intercourse, then the penetrative act after the removal of the condom will amount to rape. If the man promises marriage in order to gain sexual favours, that also amounts to rape,” she says.

An advocate practising with the Karnataka High Court and the Supreme Court of India, Laxmi Iyengar says that one of the reasons why stealthing is not spoken about and why victims find it very difficult to come forward is the stigma attached with the experience.

“The reason why most women do not come forward and report stealthing is because of the way our legal system works. Most of the women first have to gather the courage to go to the police station and file and FIR. After four to five visits to the police station, there is the trial. In such cases, the women are ostracized, called names and she is the one put on trial and she is the one who is mocked. The accused will nicely get bail and they also fail to show up in court. The proceedings drag on for years. Who is willing to go through all this trouble? The problem of being branded as someone who does not have morals, as someone who had sex before marriage. This is a big problem,” Laxmi Iyengar says.

Laxmi says that one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed is the lack of sensitivity among trial court judges, who deal with cases related to sexual assault or rape.

“The judges are not sensitised, most of them don’t know how to talk to victims of sexual abuse. The lengthy trials, coupled with insensitivity by the judges, who are the only hope women have, leads to the thinking that it would be better if she just moved on with her life,” she adds.

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