Lawmakers Want to Know What the DOJ Is Doing About Stealthing

Lawmakers are asking the Department of Justice to turn over information regarding how it addresses stealthing, a form of sexual assault that involves the nonconsensual removal of a condom during sex.

According to an exclusive report from Bustle, New York Representative Carolyn Maloney and California Representative Ro Khanna sent a letter to United States Attorney General William Barr on Friday requesting responses to three inquiries: whether the department’s resources for sexual abuse survivors specifically addresses stealthing, if the department has been collecting data on stealthing, and whether the department has passed down data collecting and reporting guidelines to state and local law enforcement.

“There is a dearth of data about stealthing and we were really concerned about that,” Maloney told Broadly by email. “There is a federal agency that collects data from city, university and college, county, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement but we couldn’t find any information on how the DOJ is currently treating nonconsensual condom removal. So, we decided to write to them to find out how they’re addressing this issue in their reporting guidelines and other guidance.”

In a statement to Broadly, a DOJ spokesman said the department is reviewing the letter and plans to respond.

Maloney and Khanna began speaking out about stealthing in 2017 following a seminal Columbia Journal of Gender and Law study from Alexandra Brodsky, who identified nonconsensual condom removal as a growing phenomenon victims experienced as a “clear violation of their bodily autonomy and the trust they had mistakenly placed in their sexual partner.”

“Their struggle to name the practice felt really intertwined with the struggle to feel confident that it was a form of gender violence,” Brodsky, now a law clerk for the US Courts of Appeals, told Broadly at the time, speaking about the subjects she interviewed for the study. “A number of the people I talked to felt like because it wasn’t something they’d heard discussed, because it wasn’t something they had a name for, they struggled to know how to think about it in the context of other disrespectful and violent sexual experiences they’d had.”

Heather Purcell, Khanna’s press secretary, was one woman who was able to identify and understand her experience with stealing through having language for it. “I read that study and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this stealthing thing has happened to me,’” she told San Jose Inside.

Purcell called Brodsky’s study to Khanna’s attention, and a few months later, he and Maloney called for a House Judiciary Committee hearing, where lawmakers could hear from expert witnesses meant to “offer valuable insight into the details and implications of the practice itself as well as the legal and political consequences Congress should consider.”

The hearing never came to fruition—and there’s been little progress in Washington around the issue since Maloney and Khanna’s initial call to action. But with a Democratic-controlled House, Khanna’s optimistic that his and Maloney’s request to the DOJ could be the start of a productive conversation on the Hill and in broader culture.

“With the House in the Democratic majority, I am confident progress will be made on this issue,” Khanna told Broadly in an emailed statement. “Stealthing is sexual assault. It’s important to realize that the purpose of this conversation is not, in my view, it’s not out of vengeance. It’s not out of a desire to shame individual perpetrators. It’s a desire to change the culture. It’s a desire to bring a sea change in the culture.”