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Civil penalties for ‘stealthing’ now in effect in Washington state

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(The Center Square) – As of Monday, Washington is the third state in the country to allow punishment for “stealthing.”

Stealthing is the act of removing or tampering with a sexually protective device before or during intercourse without a partner’s consent.

California and Maine were the first two states to pass similar laws, but Washington’s law goes further adding dental dams, spermicides, cervical caps, and other devices used to prevent pregnancies and the spread of disease to the list of barriers that cannot be removed or tampered with.

Rep. Liz Berry, D-Seattle, sponsored the bill.

Berry said she became concerned about the issue when a friend told her she had been stealthed – a sexual partner had removed their condom without her knowledge or consent.

”She had to take a whole day off work to go to her doctor and get tested and get the proper medications she needed … and suffered a ton of emotional distress over the whole situation,” Berry said. “It was awful for her.”

Berry said Washington’s lack of legal remedies prompted her into action.

During a January House Judiciary and Civil Rights Committee, Berry said the new law is, “A pathway to justice for survivors of sexual assault.”

Under the law, a person who has been the victim of stealthing would be able to bring a civil case against the perpetrator, and perpetrators could face a $5,000 penalty per violation. The law also creates room for a court to consider previous findings of liability regarding stealthing, and allows courts to award court fees and attorney’s fees to the petitioner.

During the same January hearing, Mina Hashemi testified in support of the bill. She told lawmakers she was the victim of non-consensual condom removal.

“Three years ago I was stealthed by a man who I agreed to have protected sex with,” she said. “After, I was shocked the see the condom had been removed during the act. I did not consent to unprotected sex and I felt deeply violated. In the weeks that followed, I experienced deep anxiety about unwanted pregnancy and STD worries.”

“I missed work to see a doctor and had to spend money on Plan B,” Hashemi continued. “I think about the many women who can’t access resources after sexual assault.”

Elizabeth Hendren with the Sexual Violence Law Center told lawmakers, “Currently we have no legal remedies to our callers that are experiencing stealthing, so we need this legislation.”

Some members of the committee raised questions about proving stealthing was done intentionally.

Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, asked, “How would you establish the intentionality of this tampering under the statute proposal?”

Hendren said, “It would go to the facts of what happened, what conversations were had, what the understanding of what each party said and then what actually occurred. It comes down to testimony.”

Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Gig Harbor, said during a Feb. 7 House floor debate that “I am all for protecting women, but we have to protect men, too.”

“If a woman goes into a relationship and tells the man that they have an IUD … what happens if they remove it three months later and they want to get pregnant and a man doesn’t want to?” asked Caldier.

Although Berry said the issue isn’t widely discussed, stealthing is relatively common, citing a 2019 study that found that roughly 12% of women have experienced stealthing,

The law does not make stealthing a criminal offense, but allows survivors to obtain monetary damages.

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