The bill amends the state’s civil definition of sexual battery, making stealthing a civil offense and giving victims the grounds to sue their assailants for damages.
“By passing this bill, we are underlining the importance of consent,” the governor’s office said in a tweet.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who represents part of Los Angeles County and who sponsored the bill, said the measure would give victims another resource to hold perpetrators accountable.
“I’m proud that California was the first in the nation to get this done,” Garcia said in an interview Friday. “But also I have a sense of urgency to see other state legislatures pass similar bills so it’s clear, across all of these states, that stealthing is not just immoral but illegal.”
Garcia, a Democrat, said that she had been trying to pass legislation criminalising stealthing since 2017, when a Yale University study by Alexandra Brodsky, a lawyer, brought widespread attention to it. She said in an interview last month that she had run into considerable opposition over the years, mostly from lawmakers concerned about what penalties to set, regarding how to prove it had been committed and other issues. The state Assembly unanimously passed this iteration of the bill in September.
“Seeing this topic go from a young woman’s master’s thesis to now, you know, a global mainstream discussion is really the exciting part,” Garcia said.
On Thursday, the Legislative Assembly in the Australian Capital Territory, which includes Canberra, also passed new laws that define stealthing as an act of sexual assault.
Garcia said she hoped the new law would help prevent the act and broaden the conversation around consent. “This bill is allowing us to have a discussion about consent in our homes and our schools and in our relationships,” she said.
The bill does not stipulate the possibility of jail time for stealthing, but supporters of the law say that civil litigation can sometimes yield more results for victims. Last month, Garcia said the bill was “a good first step” in laying the groundwork to eventually add stealthing to the state’s criminal code.
Stealthing tends to go widely unreported because there were few ways to address it legally, but it is still a widespread issue, according to advocates and research.
A study published in the National Library of Medicine in 2019 reported that 12% of women said that they had been a victim of stealthing. Another study that year found that 10% of men admitted to removing their condom during intercourse without their partner’s consent.
But Brodsky, who wrote the 2017 Yale study and is the author of “Sexual Justice,” a book that addresses various forms of institutional response to sexual harassment and assault, said last month that civil suit remedies were “really underutilised” in such cases.
Brodsky said that, in contrast to criminal cases, in which prosecutors bring charges and a jury can send a convicted person to prison, civil suit remedies were often more useful to victims.
“There are many survivors who do not want to see the person who hurt them in prison and could really use help covering medical debt or could use help having the resources to see a therapist,” Brodsky said.
Similar bills on stealthing have been introduced in New York and in Wisconsin, but neither has passed.
The governor signed another bill sponsored by Garcia into law Thursday, a measure that removes a spousal exemption to the state’s laws on rape.
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