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What is stealthing?

So-called 'stealthing' is a form of rape. It happens when people agree to have sex with a condom and then someone either lies about putting a condom on or removes it without the other person's permission.

The key points

  • The definition or meaning of the word 'stealthing' is when someone removes a condom during sex without the other person's consent or lies about having put one on in the first place.
  • Stealthing is rape under English and Welsh law. This means that someone who carries it out can be prosecuted for rape.
  • Like all rape, stealthing is a very serious crime that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
  • 'Stealthing' is a slang word, not a legal term. The legal term for this act is 'rape'.

Looking for help after stealthing or feeling confused? You can talk to us.

This image shows a man's hands opening a condom. His face isn't visible.

What the law in England and Wales says about stealthing

Stealthing is rape under English and Welsh law – and therefore illegal.

'Stealthing' is not a legal term and there is no criminal offence called 'stealthing'.

Under English and Welsh law, the act of stealthing is considered rape. This means that anyone who carries out stealthing can be prosecuted for the criminal offence of rape. This is a very serious crime which carries the same maximum sentence as murder: life in prison.

Conditional consent

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 says that someone did not consent to sex if the other person tricked them about the 'nature' of the sex – in other words, what exactly it was going to involve. This is what's known in law as 'conditional consent'.

Although the Sexual Offences Act does not specifically mention lying about putting on a condom or non-consensual condom removal, a man who carried out stealthing was convicted of rape in 2019. This case confirmed that conditional consent applied in cases of stealthing and that it was therefore rape under English and Welsh law.

Why the word 'stealthing' can be harmful

Using words like 'stealthing' instead of the word 'rape' can make it seem like some forms of rape are worse than others. Or that they don't really 'count' as rape.

However, all rape is a serious crime that can have a long-lasting and serious impact on someone's life. Rape is never, ever okay – no matter what 'kind' of rape it is.

At Rape Crisis England & Wales, we prefer to use the word 'rape when talking about stealthing. That's because we think it's important to be very clear about what stealthing really is.

❗ However, if you contact us to talk about your experience and want to use the word 'stealthing' then that's completely okay. We believe that victims and survivors should use whatever language they feel most comfortable with when describing what has happened to them.

Find out more about rape

Getting help and support

If you have experienced stealthing or any other form of rape – whether recently or a long time ago – Rape Crisis is here for you. If you choose to contact us, we will listen to you and believe you. And we will never judge.

Find out more about getting help and support


You can contact our free 24/7 Support Line by calling 0808 500 2222 or visiting the website to start an online chat.