SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday signed a bill that expands the definition of sexual battery to include the intentional removal of a condom without verbal consent, an act commonly referred to as "stealthing."
Assembly Bill 453 amends California's civil code to include stealthing and therefore allow victims to pursue a civil lawsuit for damages. Though current law prohibits "harmful or sexually offensive contact with the intimate part of another," according to an AB 453 analysis, the new law clarifies any legal ambiguity around nonconsensual condom removal.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Bells Garden Democrat who wrote the bill, has been pushing legislation to crack down on stealthing since 2017. California is the first in the nation to have a law explicitly banning stealthing.
"I have been working on the issue of 'stealthing' since 2017 and I am elated that there is now some accountability for those who perpetrate the act. Sexual assaults, especially those on women of color, are perpetually swept under the rug," Garcia said in a statement.
A 2017 Columbia Journal of Gender and Law report states that nonconsensual condom removal "exposes victims to physical risks of pregnancy and disease and" and victims often feel as though they've experienced a "grave violation of dignity and autonomy."
The National Domestic Violence Hotline's "love is respect" project reports that stealthing can be considered emotional and sexual abuse, and that "victims often feel confused, ashamed and they're not even sure how to digest what just happened to them."
The popular TV show "I May Destroy You" also helped raise awareness on the social and emotional effects of stealthing. The main character is a victim of nonconsensual condom removal, and the series follows her confusion and anger in the aftermath of the trauma.
AB 453 passed both the Assembly and Senate with significant bipartisan support and zero no votes after Garcia addressed concerns that it could overwhelm the criminal justice system. Garcia's previous efforts included adding stealthing to the criminal code, a provision she changed for the 2021 version of the bill.
"This law is the first of its kind in the nation, but I urge other states to follow in California's direction and make it clear that stealthing is not just immoral but illegal," Garcia said. "More importantly, I encourage us all to not shy away from important conversations about consent in order to ensure we reduce the number of victims."