“I didn’t know he removed the condom while we were having sex…I felt violated”
Eugenia (not real name) walked into a pharmaceutical store on one of the busiest streets in Port-Harcourt, Rivers state in late October. Trying not to let her nerves betray her, she stoically told the store attendant that she needed to get the emergency pills.
Being approached by a smart and respectable young man was a total catch, she thought. It only became natural that they started to exchange contacts, go on dates, and pay him (a) visit. It was such that nothing seemed out of the ordinary when Eugenia showed up at his doorstep, craving to take things further.
Conversations got deeper, personal, and seductive. Then followed by the touches — first in flicks; then the eye locks; and pulsating heartbeats. This could only mean what they both had in mind. She agreed to have sex with him, but demanded that he wore a condom.
How could she not have known that he was going to pull a stunt like that on her?
A sex trend yet an uncommon lexicon
Earlier in the month, I reached out to one of my friends to recommend a good documentary podcast on BBC sounds. Soon, I found myself wrapped in a 45-minute-long documentary on reproductive coercion. My interest was however, hooked by the author’s prior investigation into the issue of “stealthing” a ywas,ear before.
The practice of stealthing, as I found out, is commonplace among young and sexually active people, although the data is purely anecdotal.
After several conversations, it would find that 15 other young Nigerian ladies I had engaged on this subject were just as new to this phenomenon as I was, but understood the context of what it means. While a few of them attested to a mutually exclusive condom-less sex with their partners, others had no idea of being stealthed.
Stealthing is a term that denotes the non-consensual removal of a condom during sex. Simply put, a woman says yes to sex but no to condom-less sex. And like the Stealth Bomb, it happens in the dark and takes the victims by surprise.
“I didn’t know the condom was out. But when he finished inside of me and I got up, I felt his sperm dribbling down my vagina.”
Gobsmacked, Eugenia had to quiz herself. “How was it even possible because I had seen him put on the latex rubber, right?
“Some guys would say they don’t know how it happened; others will pretend. My partner pretended and stated rather casually that the condom got burst during the whole process. I had demanded to see the condom for proof that it was used…like any particles…. I found nothing.”
Potential Pregnancy, Potential STI, Unresolved Trauma
In addition to violating a sexual partner’s consent, stealthing exposes an individual to an increased risk of unwanted pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Victims of stealthing may also experience many of the same traumatic effects that other survivors of sexual violence do. But because stealthing is not clearly defined as sexual assault, they may feel confused as to why they’re feeling this way.
Not having the language to explain what happened can also make it harder to seek support for the trauma.
“I couldn’t even place a word for what happened…I just felt violated.
“I also felt there was no need to report the incident; after all, I was the one who went to his house.”
On whether or not Eugenia’s experience has ever been received in the context of sexual assault or rape by non-governmental organisations in Nigeria, Chinemerem Wealth, a former Project Manager at Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF) says that they’ve never had reports of such nature from women.
“Most of our survivors were minors and the few pregnant ones were handled primarily as cases of child abuse/molestation/defilement. Although we had adult survivors who came in pregnant, none of them gave an account of your focus area. The reality is, most perpetrators from my years of working with SGBV survivors rarely go around with condoms.”
Highlighting the entrenchment of rape culture in Nigeria, Wealth cited that the issue of stealthing—if reported at all — will be treated with contempt, leaving survivors to suffer in silence.
“We’re still struggling with proofing and prosecuting cases of rape; especially when adults are involved/previous intimate partners, even with clear evidence from medical forensic examination, bringing up stealthing in the Nigerian context will only lead to further controversy.
“It’ll be a case of, ‘so you agreed to have sex with him, why should taking off the condom during the act be an issue?’ Nigeria is a patriarchal society and opposes anything that enables the woman to speak up against violence or being sexually abused.”
Victims, on the other hand, are not disposed to sassault,eeking medical help. A gynaecologist at the Lagos State General Hospital, Dr Jide Majekodunmi, attested to having zero patients report stealthing.
Stealthing: An actual case of rape, sexual assault or what?
Given the variation of rape laws across the world, what could actually stand as ‘rape’ in some countries would differ in others. In the context of stealthing, countries like the UK, Switzerland, Canada, and Germany have all seen convictions on it. Specifically, in New Zealand, stealthing is treated as a case of rape without the tacit process of stratifying them into classic, serious, violent, marital rape, among others.
Rape is rape regardless of how individuals choose to see it, and for stealthed victims who try to undermine their experiences for women who have more traumatic experiences in these countries. With fewer prosecution successes on stealthing, it has, nonetheless, created a ripple effect and set a legal precedence.
However, it is unclear if stealthing would ever gain as much recognition in African countries as it has in the West. “The argument as to whether stealthing should be considered as rape would have divergent views”, says Izuchukwu Temilade Nwagbara, a legal practitioner within the jurisdiction of Criminal law in Nigeria.
Looking critically at Nigeria’s criminal code, Nwagbara feels stealthing should only be seen as a crime in its rights. “It should not be considered as rape; we do not have to stretch the meaning of the word rape to cater for every reprehensible sexual act.”
Probable but Far-stretching Legal Recourse for Victims
As it stands, stealthing has not been defined as a crime with a punishment ascribed to it in Nigeria. And as such, it is no crime. Given the background of criminal law in Nigeria, for anything to be considered and prosecuted as a crime, it must be defined in a written law and a punishment must be ascribed to it. This is provided for in Section 36 (12) of the Constitution Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
Rape, under the Nigerian Criminal Code of Conduct, is being prosecuted as a crime but, as another legal practitioner would put it, the country has few decided cases on what it considers rape despite its alarming prevalence of it. How much more stealthing which is not even recognised.
In another aspect, the conditions under who can be raped is one that has cast a prognosis on how the implementation of stealthing will take its form if criminalised. The Criminal Code Act of Nigeria in Section 357 defined rape as having ‘…unlawful carnal knowledge of a woman or girl…’. As such, a man cannot be raped under the Criminal Code Act.
The Violence Against Persons Protection Act 2015 (VAPPA), expands the definition of what could be considered rape but only state assemblies can domesticate this Act as a law. rape,
“As at June 2021, 18 states—out of the 36 states of Nigeria—were yet to domesticate VAPP Act. In other words, in those 18 states, men could not be considered rape victims under the Law,” Nwagbara explains.
While Nwagbara, and perhaps a host of other legal practitioners, would be interested in pursuing remedies to help stealthing victims seek punitive and emotional recourse, the stages scaling up to that process are quite onerous.