Stealthing, the act of sneakily removing a condom during sex, is set to become a crime in the ACT – and not a second too soon.

As many as one in three women and one in five queer men have been a victim of stealthing, according to one Australian study, with female sex workers particularly at risk.

The practice is already covered under existing criminal law, but the ACT government is looking to put it “beyond doubt” of being a crime.

“A strong and clear criminal justice response to sexual offending is important, not only for victims and survivors but also the entire community,” Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, reports the ABC.

“Put simply, stealthing is rape.”

The bill is being introduced by Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee, with Rattenbury indicating the Labor Government would support it.

“Stealthing – the non-consensual removal of a condom during sex – is a disgusting act,” Lee wrote on Facebook.

“According to research conducted by the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and Monash University, a staggering one in three women and one in five men who have sex with other men have been victims of it.

“It is a disgusting act that happens at a vulnerable and intimate time and we, as a community, must make it clear is unacceptable. Our laws should reflect that.

“Today, I will be tabling a bill which specifically outlaws this heinous act. Sex with non-consensual removal of a condom negates consent and is sexual assault.”

Stealthing has rarely made its way to the courts in Australia, but in 2018 a prominent surgeon in Victoria was arrested and charged with raping a fellow doctor after he allegedly removed his condom without permission.

It was reported as Australia’s first “stealthing” case. The surgeon, whose name was suppressed, had his practising license suspended by the medical board, but then had it reinstated in 2019 after a legal battle.

Prosecuting stealthing will still be tricky, Fahim Khan, a senior associate at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

“The challenge in prosecuting such a case on the very narrow act of ‘stealthing’, that is, arguing that the person removed the condom and secondly that he did so knowing that such an act was not consented to, will be difficult, especially when proving it beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

“In matters related to sexual assault, there are often multiple layers of complexities and arguments present, and it is not always a clear argument that, but for the act of ‘stealthing’, the sexual act would have been otherwise consensual.”

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual assault, you can contact 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or the Kids Helpline (ages 5 to 25) on 1800 55 1800.