Sexual abuse comes in many forms, and as we've seen over the last several weeks, it's pervasive both inside and outside of the workplace. While it's always been an issue for decades—recent calls to action are raising a heightened awareness about the many ways in which abuse manifests, and what must change to shut it down.
New York Assemblywoman Amy Paulin is a part of that change. In late October, she introduced two bills that would allow individuals to criminally charge their partners for stealthing, also known as the non-consensual removal of a condom. Paulin introduced the criminal Bill A8733 (unconsented removal or tampering with a sexually protective device) and the civil Bill A8734 (a private right of action for unconsented removal or tampering with a sexually protective device ) on October 24th, but has been drafting it since early spring.
"This practice of 'stealthing' has been happening for as long as condoms have been invented," Paulin told Levo. "We just didn’t have a name for this specific sexual entitlement and disregard for consent. It’s difficult to report something that has no name."
"We’ve heard and read accounts from both men and women who’ve said that stealthing had happened to them," Paulin continued. "However, they were unsure if the violation they experienced was rape or a crime at all because it didn’t fit within the range of already available gender-based offenses."
To say that the timing for this bill is impeccable is an understatement—as new accounts of harassment and abuse across every industry come to light daily. But this is not a call for a witch hunt, this is a call for justice.
In fact, Paulin noted that many victims of stealthing have recently come forward following recent reports and social media activism.
"Because of sex scandals in the news and powerful social media campaigns like #MeToo that highlight the prevalence of sexual assault, more people have found the courage to come forward with their own stories," Paulin said.
"With stealthing, we’re going to see the same pattern of behavior; the more people talk about the practice and the harm it causes, the greater the number of individuals who will come out of the woodwork to share their trauma. They can finally have a chance of being taken seriously and in some cases, get the services and help they need as survivors."
As a member of state assembly for 17 years, Paulin has worked on numerous legislation in the name of sexual safety. In 2006, while advocating for a bill that would remove the statute of limitations on rape in NY, she revealed that she, too, is a survivor of sexual assault for the first time in a room full of her colleagues. The bill passed and New York has since remained "the only state in the country to allow rapists to be brought to justice regardless of when they committed their crimes."
"Sexual assault is about power and control," said Paulin. Stealthing, she insists, is no different.
"It forces a partner into a sexual situation they were not expecting and to which they did not agree," she adds. "Not only does this violate consent and trust, it’s also incredibly dangerous because now the unwitting partner is left vulnerable to the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease, and can suffer from extreme emotional and financial distress. There should be consequences for the perpetrators.”
There is currently no opposition to Paulin's proposed bills.
Whether or not it passes, Paulin advocates for more debates and conversations on the topic. "[T]he issue and debate as to whether or not stealthing is rape or assault is going to require us to revisit and have very granular discussions about how we define sexual consent."
There's no better time than now.