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Vermont House lawmakers consider bill that would create civil remedy against stealthing

A photo of condoms in gold and red wrappers
Bret Hartman
Associated Press File
House lawmakers are considering a bill, modeled after one in California, that would allow victims of "stealthing" the ability to sue for damages in civil court.

Lawmakers in the Vermont House are expected to vote this week on a bill that would create a civil recourse for victims of stealthing — the nonconsensual removal or tampering with a condom during sex.

H. 40 would allow someone who’s experienced stealthing to sue the perpetrator in civil court for damages. Right now, there's no legal option for victims of stealthing.

Rep. Barbara Rachelson, a Democrat who represents Chittenden County, modeled the bill after a similar one that passed in California in 2021.

In Canada, a person who removes or tampers with a condom without their partner's consent could be charged with sexual assault.

An earlier version of the Vermont bill would have allowed officials to bring criminal charges, but Rachelson said removing that provision makes the bill more likely to pass.

It can also avoid re-traumatizing survivors in a criminal case that requires a higher burden of proof.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont First State Requiring Secondary Schools To Give Out Free Condoms

In testimony, Jennifer Poehlmann, the executive director of Vermont Crime Victim Services, said there is a lack of consensus in the advocacy community on this bill, but acknowledged its importance.

“This opportunity creates a space for that discussion and that acknowledgement that that wasn’t OK what happened to you, and yes you are worthy of accessing resources and you are worthy of support," she said. "I just think that elevating the conversation is so important.”

During committee testimony, Rep. Thomas Burditt, a Republican who represents Rutland, told the committee he worried the bill was discriminatory against men.

In personal, emotional testimony Rep. Mari Cordes, a Democrat representing Addison County, told lawmakers about her personal experience with stealthing.

“I couldn’t understand why I felt the way that I did after this happened, because I didn’t know it was sexual assault," she said. “I felt I had no control, I felt isolated, I felt very small. Disempowered. I felt violated. I had trouble with trust after that.”

Cordes said she supports the bill and believes that it can empower survivors.

The bill was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee favorably on Wednesday.

This story is a collaboration between Vermont Public and the Community News Service. The Community News Service is a student-powered partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and community newspapers across Vermont.

Fiona McManus is a senior at the University of Vermont majoring in political science.
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