MYNORTHWEST POLITICS

Wash. House passes bill to address ‘stealthing’ in sexual encounters

Feb 8, 2024, 4:59 AM

Image: Volunteers separate condoms to give away during a free HIV testing event in Washington, D.C....

Volunteers separate condoms to give away during a free HIV testing event in Washington, D.C., in February 2012. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski, Getty Images)

(Photo: Brendan Smialowski, Getty Images)

In a decisive move, the House has passed HB 1958, an act aimed at addressing the alarming issue of nonconsensual removal or tampering with sexually protective devices during sexual intercourse. (A PDF of the substitute bill can be viewed here.)

The bill, which passed 64-33, marks a significant step in combating the practice known as “stealthing.”

Titled “An Act Relating to Nonconsensual Removal of or Tampering with a Sexually Protective Device,” the bill introduces measures to create a civil cause of action for individuals who have experienced the nonconsensual removal or tampering of sexually protective devices or have been misled into believing that such devices were used.

Stealthing refers to the deliberate removal or destruction of a condom or other sexually protective device during sexual intercourse without the knowledge or consent of one partner.

This practice can lead to unintended pregnancies and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections.

Stealthing and the law

While stealthing is not explicitly prohibited under current state laws, it may qualify as various offenses depending on the circumstances, such as intentional transmission of HIV or battery.

In response to this gap in legislation, states like California and Maine have recently enacted laws authorizing civil remedies for nonconsensual removal or tampering with condoms. California was the first state to pass a stealthing law in 2021. Maine’s went on the books in 2023.

In its coverage of the California law, The Associated Press in 2021 noted “(stealthing) is rarely prosecuted given the difficulty in proving that a perpetrator acted intentionally instead of accidentally.”

HB 1958 aims to provide recourse for individuals who have been victims of stealthing by allowing them to bring civil actions against perpetrators.

“This bill will allow survivors of sexual assault to be compensated for the real harm that is done to them by stealthing or the nonconsensual removal of a sexually protective device,” Rep. Liz Berry, D-Seattle, said.

The bill outlines specific instances where such actions can be pursued, including cases where the protective device is removed without consent or tampered with in a manner likely to render it ineffective.

Disagreement about devices in the stealthing bill

However, there was disagreement on the House floor regarding how many devices should be included in the bill.

It covers condoms but does not cover devices that are inserted into a woman’s vagina such as diaphragms and internal uterine devices (IUDs). Some argued birth control pills should be included as well.

“What we have to consider, is if a woman says that they have those protective devices, and she’s lying, they could get pregnant, and that man would be financially responsible for that child. That’s not fair,” Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Gig Harbor, said.

Berry says the bill has been vetted well by experts.

“Broadening this definition to beyond a physical barrier device will open up unintended consequences, especially that can be weaponized against the victims that we are trying to protect in this bill,” Berry said.

An amendment to include other devices failed on a voice vote.

Caldier says she would have voted for the bill if other devices were included, but because they are not, she voted no.

“We cannot say that we want to protect women when we don’t want to protect men. I’m sorry, but I am all for protecting women. But we also have to protect men too,” Caldier said.

Rep. Cyndy Jacobsen, R-Puyallup, called the bill too ambiguous and unenforceable.

“What this may create unintentionally is a morass of he said, she said, and things that we can’t prove in court,” Jacobsen said.

The bill allows for the use of pseudonyms by plaintiffs in legal proceedings to protect their privacy.

It also stipulates that prevailing plaintiffs may be entitled to compensatory and punitive damages, statutory damages of $5,000 per violation, injunctive relief, and reimbursement of legal fees.

The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration and potential enactment into law.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

MyNorthwest Politics

Image: A U.S. Army and Vietnam War veteran attends a Memorial Day event at the Santa Fe National Ce...

Julia Dallas

Washington legislature unanimously passes bill to help over 35,000 veterans

The Washington legislature unanimously passed a bill on Friday that would help over 35,000 veterans access state benefits.

3 hours ago

demonstrators seattle city council...

Frank Sumrall

Seattle City Atty. considers charges against Council demonstrators

The six arrested were among dozens in support of Palestine, protesting the city's funding plans for asylum seekers and refugees.

5 hours ago

Image: SR 520 bridge construction work continues. Expanded tolling on SR 520 may be coming....

Chris Sullivan

Expanded tolling on SR 520 to pay for project may be coming

The Washington State Legislature may expand tolling on SR 520 to make up the budget to finish the major project.

1 day ago

Foster teens...

Bill Kaczaraba

Wash. foster children could get boost from legislature

State senate legislation recently approved by the House aims to enhance foster care support for young people aged 18 to 21.

1 day ago

Image: A Seattle Police Department vehicle...

Kate Stone

Police pursuit, parental rights initiatives go before Washington lawmakers

Police pursuits and parental rights in schools were in the spotlight in Olympia as lawmakers considered two citizen-led initiatives.

2 days ago

Image: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a Get Out The Vote...

Associated Press

Supreme Court agrees to decide if Trump can be prosecuted for election interference

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether the former president can be prosecuted on charges he interfered with the 2020 election.

2 days ago

Wash. House passes bill to address ‘stealthing’ in sexual encounters