When Will* reported his sexual assault to police in Sydney, one of the officers suggested he listen to a recent Hack story on stealthing.
WARNING: This story graphically discusses sexual assault.
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What had started as a fun, consensual hook up turned terrifying when Will realised his partner had taken the condom off and ejaculated inside him. Will was understandably shaken, and looking for a way to understand what had happened to him.
Stealthing, or nonconsensual condom removal during sex, has been getting a whole lot of attention around the world after the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law published a study on the practice. Author Alexandra Brodsky described it as "rape adjacent", meaning next to or connected to rape.
As we've been covering the issue on Hack, the response has been overwhelming: the name for it might be new but clearly, the act is not. What wasn't clear was how it would be treated under the law. Last week, a Swiss court upheld a 12-month suspended sentence for a man convicted of stealthing. But in Australia, it doesn't appear to have legal precedent.
This could be about to change.
Will has been using Recon [a fetish app for gay men] for years.
"I've found that guys I meet on Recon and in the BDSM community are more respectful of you and your limits and are more willing to have detailed conversations," he told Hack.
This began as a hook up like any other. Will and the guy he was chatting to told each other what they're into, their HIV statuses [both negative] and they agreed to using condoms for penetrative sex. Will says the first time they had sex was fun and he was keen for it to happen again.
"We spoke for maybe three weeks after the first meeting and then we met and it was all going really well. It was really fun, sexy, enjoyable," he said.
"But then maybe an hour into it he started to tell me that he was cumming, inside of me. And the way he said it made me feel a little weird.
"So I reaffirmed with him - 'you're wearing a condom aren't you?' - because I saw him put the condom on.
When Will said he was worried about contracting HIV or another STI the guy replied "everything is treatable these days".
"At that point he sort of changed. He started to say he was HIV positive and he wanted to infect me."
In the police report Will filed later, he said the guy continued to thrust down on him while he said that he was HIV positive.
NSW sex crimes squad commander Lina Howlett said sex turns into assault when "consent is not given or [is] withdrawn" but that "unfortunately there's nothing in the Crimes Act relating to removing a condom during sex".
Despite that, criminal lawyer Greg Goold told Hack the guy could expect jail time for not only breaching consent, but also for terrifying Will with the language he used.
"I think it's rape," Greg said.
"Sexual relations in our community depends upon consent.
"If that consent is based on use of a condom, and that condom is removed without consent of one of the participants, then the consent is at an end."
'I'm really sorry'
After the guy finally left his place, he sent Will a message apologising for what he'd done.
"I'm really sorry I did that and freaked you out. It was stupid of me and I deeply regret it. I was in 'c*** master' character and knew it would freak you out and did it as an 'act'. I realise it was stupid and I can only apologise and show you my results to prove to you you're OK."
He also sent test results showing he is HIV negative a few days later. But in the moments after he left, Will was scared of contracting HIV and went to the hospital for post exposure medication. While he was there, he spoke to a sexual assault doctor and counsellor and did a rape kit. That involves discussing what has happened, taking DNA from different parts of the body and documenting your sexual health and medical background. The sexual assault service also gave Will information about what evidence to collect should he choose to go to police.
"I was really unsure about going to police," he said.
Will says the guy had put doubt in his mind about whether the police would take him seriously. Will had invited this person to his house on the understanding he would be rough with him and the man told Will this meant police would be less likely to care.
But when Will did finally go to police, he says they took him very seriously. He gave them all the evidence he had - bedsheets, the toilet paper he'd used to wipe himself after the assault, the condom the guy had taken off, and the messages they'd sent each other negotiating the terms of the hook up. Speaking to a gay and lesbian liaison officer made the process easier for Will, but he says handing over a copy of his private messages was "really embarrassing".
"The detectives were confident about the amount of evidence I have. They said not only what this guy did is wrong and disgusting but it seems like you have a good case here for sexual assault and to prosecute this guy."
Detective Inspector Despa Fitzgerald says Will's claims are being investigated. She says regardless of your gender or sexual orientation, anyone should feel comfortable to speak to police.
"There is no statute of limitations - a victim can come through in 10 years time," she said.
"We would go through their story, get their statement and get corroboration to what occurred and see if there was sufficient evidence to proceed to a court hearing."
She said it was important to call police as soon as possible, so a forensics team could preserve the evidence.
She said that if you had sex you believed was non-consensual, and wanted to place charges, then you should try and not wash and not eat and keep sheets away from other garments.
Greg Goold added that you should keep the condom as evidence.
"It's evidence of the fact there was an agreement," he said.
"Then get yourself to hospital and ask for a sexual assault kit to be applied so you have evidence of ejaculation.
"And contact police immediately."
How long a case takes
Police have warned Will that prosecuting can take up to two years, because of the backlog in the courts. He says that's really making him think twice about whether he wants to take legal action.
"That is such a long time to keep thinking about what happened and wondering if I've made the right decision and have all this private sex life stuff in the public and then maybe nothing might come of it," he said.
Sexual assault victims can choose to remain anonymous in the media, although the court room may be open to the public.
The backlog in the courts can be a deterrent for victims of sexual assault.
Criminal lawyer Greg Goold warned that going through the court process can be grueling for victims.
"But in the last several years the treatment of victims by the legal system has dramatically improved and the courts and the judges are aware of what the victims go through."
"And they go to lengths so the victim doesn't go through an arduous and onerous process.
Aside from the criminal case, the victim can also sue for trespass to the person. Greg Goold estimated that in sexual assault cases a victim could expect more than $100,000 in damages.
After the assault, Will contacted the app Recon to let them know what happened. They recommended he report it to authorities but said there's not much they can do unless the guy is charged and convicted. Will has blocked him, so they can't see each other's movements, but he's worried the guy will do it to somebody else.
"You almost just want to say 'oh my God, world! Watch out for this person because they're out there'."
Recon did not respond to Hack's request for an interview to discuss whether they can do more to help protect their users.
The impact of sexual assault
Will has struggled since the sexual assault, about a month ago.
"It's had a huge impact on me. The first few weeks I really felt like I couldn't trust anyone. Not just in my sex life but just anyone in general. I was really angry and down. But I have reached out to friends and family and the sexual assault service and that's been really good.
"Before this I had spent a lot of time becoming a really proud and conscientious kinkster and this has been a real kick in the guts. I still want to be sexual and I want to get back to that but it's going to take some time."
Will says he wants other people who have been sexually assaulted or 'stealthed' to know there is help available.
"I wanted to share my story because I want people to know that if it's happened to them it's not OK and it's not your fault and there is nothing you could have done.
"Please reach out to talk to someone because that has been so helpful to me.
"Also, anyone regardless of their gender or sexual identity, should feel comfortable going to police about sexual assaults."
*Will's name has been changed.