Canadian university policies silent on stealthing

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

Concordia administration says the practice “hasn’t been an issue” on campus

None of Canada’s 96 universities mention stealthing in their sexual assault policies, according to both a study published in October and independent research by The Concordian.

Stealthing is defined as “nonconsensual condom removal during sexual intercourse” by Alexandra Brodsky, a human rights lawyer who published the first major study on the subject in April.

While there are no clear figures on how prevalent stealthing is, Carleton University graduate and National Our Turn Committee chair Caitlin Salvino said she has encountered many students in her research who have been victims of the practice. The National Our Turn Committee, a student-led sexual assault advocacy group, published Our Turn: A National, Student-Led Action Plan to End Campus Sexual Violence, in October. The study evaluated the sexual assault policies of 14 major Canadian universities, ranked them on a 100-point scale and offered suggestions on how to improve existing policies.

“We met with people who did experience [stealthing] and who talked about how horrifying it was,” Salvino said. However, she said she has never encountered a case where a student reported an incident of stealthing to a university. When asked about the Sexual Assault Resource Centre’s (SARC) awareness of stealthing at Concordia, university spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr said the centre claimed stealthing “hasn’t been an issue.”

Salvino attributed the lack of reported cases of stealthing to the failure of university policies to explicitly condemn the practice. “People will kind of discount their experiences,” she said.

The term “stealthing” first entered common usage when Brodsky published her study “Rape-Adjacent: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal” in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law in April. In her study, the human rights lawyer considered the current stance American laws take towards stealthing, and suggested the practice should be more clearly condemned. She also explored the online culture that has sprung up around the practice. She referenced websites and forums which provide men with advice on how to commit stealthing without their partner knowing.

The Concordian reached out to the administrations of the 14 universities analyzed in the Our Turn study, including McGill and Concordia. Of the six that responded, many said their policies are not meant to name every non-consensual sexual act, and that their policies encompass stealthing even if it is not mentioned by name. “The intent of the definition is not to try to provide a specific example of every type of potential sexual assault, but indicate it is a range of behaviours that are unwanted and imposed without consent,” said University of Regina external relations officer Everett Dorma. “Consent is defined in part as ‘the voluntary agreement to engage in the sexual activity in question.’ Thus, the act of stealthing would be considered a sexual assault since such consent would not have been given.”

However, Salvino said the purpose of calling out stealthing in a sexual assault policy is not just to ensure perpetrators are punished, but to ensure victims know that such an act is a form of sexual assault.

She said, when a university calls out stealthing in its sexual assault policy, “it shows that the university recognizes this as a serious form of harm.”

In an email to The Concordian, Memorial University of Newfoundland communications manager David Sorensen said the term is too recent to be mentioned in the school’s sexual assault policy. “As far as we can tell, the term stealthing arose around 2014 and is only recently trending, so it was not part of our drafting discussion and did not get raised during the extended university-wide consultation with students, faculty and staff,” he said. “With regards to including it in the policy, it will be considered and discussed in our next review process, and our Sexual Harassment Office is adding it to our educational materials.”

Of the 14 schools in the Our Turn study, only the University of Winnipeg said it plans to add stealthing to its sexual assault policy. The school’s communications officer Adam Campbell said in an email that “we are in the process of developing our new standalone sexual violence policy which will specifically reference stealthing. The new policy will be finalized in the new year.”

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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