‘Tis the Season to Contact Police (feel free to plagiarize)

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George Washington Law School security officer stopping me on the street, Washington D.C. Spring 2015. He was polite and listened while I explained bare-chestedness is legal, but he asked if he could call a superior to confirm. Here he is talking on the phone while I wait… Notice, I’m not even carrying a shirt here. I have no way to cover up.

 

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?

 

Dear ______

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.

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15 thoughts on “‘Tis the Season to Contact Police (feel free to plagiarize)

  1. Very well thought out, polite, reasonable. BTW, in a pinch I think that long skirt you’re wearing could be pulled up under your armpits, and cover. You shouldn’t have to IMHO, but if I thought of it, so might an officer.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi, I’m sorry that I read about your movement very recently. But I wanted to know, what are your views on these statements:

        1. it’s right to cover active genitals of both men and women for various reasons including enhancing sexual feelings during intimate occasions.

        2. While we strive for a world of equality, nature has made men and women differently and hence unequal in our abilities to do things (e.g. lifting weights or delivering babies) or in the way we have sexual fantasies, especially with things a gender cannot have.

        As you may have understood from my queries, I’m a man, not a woman (and I come from a world of deep conservative society, India). While I’m not against your wish, my ultimate aim would be to make you to think about why such rules were made in the first place and then weigh them to why you want these to be changed.

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        1. Hi, thanks for writing. Here are my quick answers to your questions. 1) American society has set a common standard of covering genitals and anus in public for all genders for a myriad of reasons, and no two people will agree on what those reasons are exactly. 2) Differing abilities does not justify unequal treatment under the law. Men have different abilities from each other. We don’t give strong men more freedoms than weak men. There are many women stronger than men. All people receive equal protections and freedoms under the law. Period. 3) Rules are often made by people in power to protect their power. The mere existence of a rule does not mean that rule is just. Slavery was allowed by rule, in India and America. It was an unjust rule. Social evolution and movement toward peace and equality and happiness requires us to constantly improve our rules until we achieve equality and peace and happiness. Thank you. Be well.

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          1. Hi,

            I appreciate your response but I would disagree to points 2 and 3 (point 1 is already a subject of disagreement as rightly pointed by you).

            I compare this craving for equality similar to socialisms craving for equality whereby everybody was to be paid equally (again, another great concept but a failure). What happened? There was no motivation to perform. Similarly, when incentives for sexual pleasure are reduced, there will be reduced motivation to enjoy the best experience ever known to man. And treating people differntly on their abilities is perhaps what helps us in evolving to a better specie … of course I don’t mean changing existing rules on other torturous atrocities like banning Muslims etc, but this for sure is not an atrocity. It may be an atrocity to some women, but many women I’m assuming, would want to have that privilege to do whatever it takes to make her partner happy, just as we guys would do whatever possible to keep our partners happy. And at least till we find another experience to replace sexual experience, I do not agree on preferring same type of body coverings for both genders as it reduces sexual motivation. I would want all of you (i.e.proponents of open breasts) to think about this issue so that you avoid raising it as a law, though you continue to have limited freedom to go bare chested.

            That leads us to your third point, why rules are made. While many rules may have been made to protect the powerful, some have been made to protect humankind. Example you don’t have the freedom to kill someone. You don’t have the freedom to have sexual pleasure (rape) if your partner says no, even when the lady is bare-chested and arouses sexual pleasure. For the sake of humanity, even freedom is restricted by rules. I know the society would want to push these restrictions further but I believe we have in general evolved into a fair humane society now, even if it means curtailing the freedom of women to go bare chested. It protects the uniqueness of women by asking them to cover their breasts. protection to the very giver of life to a new born, which unfortunately also arouses sexual pleasure.

            I’m sorry, I don’t mean to pick you as an individual. It’s just a debate I need to have before this becomes an issue for pressurising lawmakers to do something, which I believe, may deprive our future generations of multiple arousal avenues. Also do let me know if my views are annoying, will keep them to myself in that case and stop reverting on this forum.

            Appreciate all your efforts you’re doing for this movement even though I don’t agree to the movement. Take care! And I’m eager to know your views again! 🙂

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            1. Thanks for the reply. We have a fundamental difference in priorities it sounds like. You seem to be saying that a man’s sexual pleasure is more important than a woman’s freedoms. I say a woman’s freedom is more important than a man’s sexual pleasure. Thanks again for considering gender equality and body positivity.

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        2. You’re conflating breasts with genitals. Breasts are not genitals therefore any argument premised on such claim is invalid. Secondly, granting woman equal protection under the law isn’t socialism. Nobody has a higher claim over your body than you do. Given how private property rights is a capitalist concept not socialist, it is an exercise of property rights for a woman to choose to appear topless in public or on private property with the consent of a property owner. Socialism calls for resource redistribution, and blanket prohibition laws are socialist in practice by converting rights into privileges for redistribution by policymakers. It’s an act of socialism when men are granted a political monopoly on public toplessness by authorities while women are prohibited from toplessness for the “common good,” with the “for the common good” argument being the foremost justification used by central planners to seize and direct resources.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder about how to make inroads in New York outside of NYC. Beyond the big cities along I-90, there are dozens of college towns and big villages where this could take off. I went to undergrad at one of the SUNY schools, Geneseo, which now as then has more female than male students.

    If the movement could get some traction in those schools, I suspect it could go viral with relative ease. Indeed, the Genesee Seven case that got the state’s Exposure of a Person law overturned in the 1992 Santorelli decision, began in a public park just a couple dozen miles downriver in Rochester.

    The key, as ever, is finding that one determined woman who’s secure in her beliefs and calm in her approach, but fearless. I don’t know how to do that. But maybe I’m pessimistic. Maybe there are several out there, on every campus. How do they find one another?

    The cage is unlocked. All it takes is for someone to push the door open, particularly in NYS where it has already been tested in court.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s on my mind to do something of a college tour, actually, and walk some campuses. That will be a fascinating experience. I have also been wanting to walk in Rochester as an hommage to the Santorelli decision. So maybe I can do both at the same time, sort of. I love that you’re putting so much brain to this. Thank you. The cage is indeed unlocked. Also, I would really like to take a walk with Ramona Santorelli. If anyone knows her, would you pass along my information?

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  3. Lovely positive approach.

    You mention quoting statute but not court cases, can you comment on this.

    Is there a site that gathers country, state/province, town regulations and relevant court challenges to make such letters easier to put together? I also understand that it is critical to reference laws directly. Perhaps summary and appropriate links.

    It would be nice if authorities posted responses, often middle management takes it upon themselves to impose their own values. You will note the differences in the first article, in the police response, and the actual court ruling for instance.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/being-topless-in-public-is-legal-b-c-woman-reminds-others-after-police-encounter-1.3170353

    http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/sc/00/09/s00-0902.htm

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    1. Thank you for this astute observation. If I know with some certainty, as in Maryland, that there is no pertinent case law, I have made a point of that in my correspondence. Case law can be very hard to chase down for a non-lawyer, because those databases require a pretty hefty fee. I do make Internet searches for case law with key words like indecent exposure and breasts, nipple, female etc. There are not a lot of cases on the topic in general. Most indecent exposure charges involve some other knuckle-headed behavior, like being high in a gas station, naked, and attacking the cop. Indecent exposure focused solely on nipples usually has some element of intentionality to it, meaning the woman was protesting or asserting her rights or objecting to an unequal law and basically refused to get dressed when a police officer asked her to. The cases that reach the mainstream media tend to do so because the woman who got arrested wanted the world to know about it. Which is fine.

      Susan Rowbottom sounds like a great, strong, calm advocate for normalizing bare-chestedness. I applaud her poise and strength. I notice something in the article that I’ve heard from police too, namely that it might be legal but we’re going to arrest you anyway. Besides the obvious injustice, this betrays to me that some people really get uncomfortable with the idea of actual equality. Close is one thing, actual, real equality is scary still. Hopefully with relentless forward progress we see this type of reaction go away.

      Another one of my commenters, Johnny, from Denmark, has been corresponding with me sharing ideas about building such a database as you mention. He is a tech guy and has offered his help, which I greatly appreciate. It would be quite a project, so if anyone wants to volunteer to participate, let me know.

      Thank you for the links.

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  4. I wish I knew more about how the legal education system worked. I refer specifically to up-and-coming law students who have an interest in this area of the law. If you could gain an ally (or five or 10 or 20) with such an interest, perhaps they could do some of this legal footwork for you with respect toward case law. This is not my specialty, and I have no “ins” with anyone in law school or teaching at one. But I bet they could research those case law databases for free while also furthering their formal education.

    Maybe you could write a post asking for such help. This would help establish:
    * where the law is clear, one way or the other, and where it is not, in various localities
    * the case law in various jurisdictions of how similar cases were handled in the past, if at all
    * what might be needed to overcome legal hurdles where law or case law is unclear or hostile

    In short, where is the lowest hanging fruit, and what ladders do we need to get to the next level? That information could in turn populate that database mentioned above.

    The more tools you have, the more tools other women have, the greater the likelihood of success.

    Hopefully as well, once those J.D.s hit the streets for real, they will become even more formidable allies when the big time legal and legislative work needs to be done.

    Like

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