The statistics are shocking.
One-in-three Australian women and one-in-five Australian men have been victims of a sexual act that some states and territories have deemed illegal but others haven’t.
The act is known as stealthing. It involves a man putting on a condom before sex then removing it at some point during sex without the other person’s knowledge.
Tasmania and the ACT have made it a crime in line with other parts of the world but the rest of Australia leaves it at a court’s discretion to determine whether sexual assault has occurred.
The inconsistency has led sexual consent activist Chanel Contos to gather law makers from around the country today for a push towards national stealthing laws.
Attorneys-General, Supreme Court judges and victims are gathering for a roundtable on Thursday where they will hear first hand from those who have fallen victim to the all-too-common practice.
Contos, who received global attention in 2021 when she asked young Australians to respond to a petition about their experiences with sexual assault, says the statistics are “shocking”.
Speaking to the ABC’s Virginia Trioli on Thursday, she said there are potentially “hundreds of thousands of Australian men who have committed this crime without realizing it”.
“In jurisdictions where it’s not explicitly mentioned in legislation, it leaves it up to the courtroom to decide whether it’s an act of sexual assault,” she said.
“And that’s simply not good enough. Beyond that, the magnitude of people who have experienced stealthing means that we have potentially hundreds of thousands of Australian men who have committed this crime without realizing it.”
Contos, who is now the Director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Sex and Gender Equality, is pushing for national stealthing laws and a national awareness campaign.
She says the act can lead to STI transmission and unwanted pregnancies and that “all of this boils down to consent”.
“It’s quite shocking to me because our national statistic is that one-in-five Australian women have been sexually assaulted since the age of 15,” she said.
“That always sat wrong with me because, 1: I’m not included in that statistic because mine happened when I was 13 and 2: It’s happened to so many of my peers at that age that I know it’s a misrepresentation.
“And then if we have stealthing being understood as an act of sexual assault in the ACT and Tasmania and up to every individual courtroom, and we know the stats are one-in-three women (who are victims of stealthing), that automatically drops our rates of sexual violence to one-in-three for the country and one-in-five for homosexual men and we need to start talking about this.”
She said it seems “crazy” that Australia would not have a consistent approach.
“It seems crazy to me that we have inconsistent laws around the country. How can you let a young girl growing up in the ACT being told this can’t happen to her and it’s a crime and then she goes to Schoolies in Queensland and suddenly it’s up to the courtroom?”
The ACT became the first Australian state or territory to criminalize stealthing in October last year.
While stealthing is already covered under existing law, the new laws, which passed in the Legislative Assembly, will expressly identify the act as one of sexual assault.
The new law also covers not using a condom at all after consent has been given.
The bill was brought forward by Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee, who called the act “traumatic” and “appalling”.
When she introduced the bill in April, Lee quoted a joint study by the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre and Monash University that found out of 2000 people, a “staggering” one in three woman, and nearly one in five men who have sex with other men, reported being victims of stealthing.
Tasmania followed suit in May this year and South Australia is currently consider new laws to make stealthing a crime.
An Australian man who admitted to stealthing live on radio said he didn’t think he was doing anything wrong and that most of his mates shared the same thoughts.
In an interview with triple j’s Hack program on Wednesday, a man using the pseudonym Brendan said he had long been stealthing but did not believe he was breaking the law.
Brendan told the program that it was only after reading a news report about the Yale University study that he realized the practice had a name.
But the defiant young man said he was not concerned about STI risk or unwanted pregnancy, saying he gets regularly tested.
“Why do you do it?” Hack host Tom Tilley asked him.
“Because it feels better with no condom on,” came the reply.
He told Tilley he was unconcerned about potentially infecting his unwitting sexual partners.
“I’m confident I get checked regularly. I’m pretty safe in saying I’m clean when I’m clean,” he said.
“So every time you’ve stealthed someone you’ve been tested between that occasion and the last sexual partner you’ve had,” Tilley asked.
“Definitely not,” Brendan said.
“So there is a risk?” Tilley fired back.
“Yes, there is but there’s a risk crossing the road and we all do that,” Brendan told him.
The man maintained people were “more chilled than you might think” about having sex without condoms with casual partners whose sexual health status they did not know.
“I’m not a dirty-looking guy,” he said.
“But you made an agreement to wear a condom and then you breach that without the person knowing,” Tilley said.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I really make an agreement. I just put one on and if nothing is said I take it off. I don’t think it’s breaking the law.”
The man told Tilley he believed his views were shared by most of his mates.