I have appeared publicly bare-chested in cities, towns and beaches across the eastern United States. I have spoken to many police officers, but I have never been arrested. One part of my formula is to be prepared and firm but non-confrontational. Another major part of the reason is because I e-mail police departments ahead of my visits. Here is a sample of the language I use when I e-mail a law enforcement agency.
I am spending my winter contacting police departments in advance of some springtime visits. I hope for other women to do the same. Please feel free to use this language yourselves if you find it helpful. I’m not worried about multiple people using the same language to contact the same police departments. It will drive home the point that we are working together out here. Let me know how it goes, please?
I am writing to introduce myself and to hopefully open a civil conversation on a topic of great importance to me. If you are not the person to whom I should address this message, please provide the name of the proper person with whom I should correspond.
I am a women and intend to walk around (enter city) bare-chested in the near future. I assert that both (state) law and (city) ordinances allow females to appear bare-chested in public wherever males may do so and that police officers should not stop, harass or arrest females solely for appearing bare-chested in public.
I will not here explain why this form of equality and expression is important, though I would be happy to speak to that point. My interest is to present the applicable laws and confirm with you that (city) police officers will not stop me or any woman for merely appearing bare-chested in public.
Section __ of the (state) Constitution, entitled (for example, Prohibition Against Denial or Abridgment of Equality of Rights Because of Sex) reads, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged in the Commonwealth of __________ because of the sex of the individual.”
State Code whatever § whatever, Indecent Exposure, reads, (this is just an example, from Pennsylvania) “A person commits indecent exposure if that person exposes his or her genitals in any public place or in any place where there are present other persons under circumstances in which he or she knows or should know that this conduct is likely to offend, affront or alarm.”
There exists no city ordinance elaborating on this definition of indecent exposure.
All references to female breast exposure in state or city code refer to issues such as distribution of sexual material to minors, zoning of adult establishments and artistic modeling venues. The non-sexual public exposure of female breasts, such as would occur if a woman were merely walking down the street, swimming or picnicking in a park, is nowhere declared illegal by (state) statute or (city) ordinance, making it a legal act.
Also, as men are allowed to appear bare-chested in public, under the protections of the (state) Constitution, women must be allowed to do the same.
Anticipating the argument that a police officer may still charge a bare-chested woman with disorderly conduct, public indecency or open lewdness, merely being a female is neither disorderly, indecent nor lewd, any more than being a male is. Since you would not consider mere bare-chestedness disorderly, indecent or lewd in a male, you cannot consider it so in a female. Disorderly conduct traditionally consists of such actions as using vulgar and obscene language, vagrancy, loitering, playing loud music or creating excessive noise, causing a crowd to gather in a public place in such a way that it impedes movement or creates a danger, or annoying passengers on public transit. We will be doing none of those things.
Nor is it a valid argument that female bare-chestedness is lewd because it is unusual in our society, or because it draws attention from or upsets people who are not accustomed to seeing exposed female breasts, or because a person (or 10 or 20) calls 911 to report a bare-chested female. Twenty people reporting a legal act does not make it illegal. Unusualness is not a valid reason to arrest someone. Mixed race couples were unusual and criminal at one time in our history as well.
When I take my walk I will simply be walking. I will not carry signs, shout slogans or make a demonstration. I will not announce myself in the press. Nor will I act in a lewd or sexual manner. I will simply be enjoying an otherwise normal walk around the city as any man would be able to.
Please understand that I am writing to you in advance out of respect, to allow you the time to discuss, research and train on the topic so your patrol officers can avoid making a bad arrest or committing harassment. Where other police departments have arrested or harassed women for merely being bare-chested, (New York, Ohio, Maine, Texas, Washington D.C. and others) women have successfully sued and besides the monetary awards, women are now appearing peacefully bare-chested in these places without being harassed or arrested by police. I neither wish to be arrested, nor to sue. I wish merely to be left alone to walk peacefully and equally.
The normalization and non-sexualization of the female breast cannot occur if women do not feel comfortable appearing bare-chested in public. Negative police interactions, even ones that do not result in an arrest, are very intimidating, upsetting and discouraging. Gender equality is a social challenge, not a legal one. The law is clear. Females and males are to be treated equally in (state). No exceptions.
I would very much appreciate a dialogue with you or a designee on this topic, or if you agree with my assertion on its face, a written confirmation that public female breast exposure is legal and that officers should not stop, harass or arrest a woman solely for being bare-chested.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.