The Laws of Indecent Exposure, Going Topless & Bare Breasts in Public

August 25th is Women’s Equality Day and the movement to “free the nipple” is in direct challenge of what many believe are unconstitutional and discriminatory ordinance laws against women. Recently, 2 women were arrested and charged with indecent exposure for going topless. While their charges were eventually dropped, this sort of injustice happens far too often.

Unfortunately, sometimes a police officer will mistakenly equate going topless with indecent exposure because the officer sees bare breasts in public. But bare breasts in public only violate indecent exposure laws if the exposure is done in a “lewd” manner, meaning done “lustfully.” Therefore, simply exposing one’s breast in public, without doing something lustful with them, is not a violation of the law.

Prohibiting women from going topless may infringe their rights to freedom of speech and expression. Also, prosecuting only women for being topless, and not men, may violate their right to equal treatment and due process under the law.

How Does the State of Minnesota Handle Indecent Exposure?

According to the law, indecent exposure is defined by Minnesota Stat. 617.23, Subd. 1 (1) as willfully and lewdly exposing the person's body or private parts. However, being topless in and of itself is not lewd. Rather, a person’s conduct only amounts to lewd behavior when it is done in an “extremely lustful” manner.

Some in society argue against a woman’s right to be topless by stating that they want to protect society, i.e., that it’s not morally appropriate to see bare breasts in public. That argument, however, is misguided because seeing a bare-chested woman in public is legally no different than seeing a bare-chested man.

To learn more about this movement and find resources or articles on the topic, click here.

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