A woman was topless in her own home. Now she's facing misdemeanor charges because it's "lewd."
The Free the Nipple movement is trying to remove the stigma on women's breasts by making it culturally acceptable and legal for women to go topless in public. But it turns out, Free the Nipple might be fighting on the wrong front and should be focusing on freeing the nipple in a place you'd never expect. Your own home.
A woman in Utah is facing criminal charges for not wearing a shirt in her house, with prosecutors arguing that women's chests are culturally considered lewd.
Tilli Buchanan was hanging drywall with her husband in their garage, and both of them took their shirts off to get the itchy substances of their skin. Her stepchildren (ages 9, 10, and 13) came downstairs at that moment and got embarrassed by the sight. But Buchanan decided to turn it into a teachable moment, telling the children that a woman's chest wasn't inherently sexual. "This isn't a sexual thing," she recalled telling the children, per the Salt Lake Tribune. "I should be able to wear exactly what my husband wears. You shouldn't be embarrassed about this."
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Buchanan hadn't thought much of the incident until she was contacted by the authorities after the children's mother reported Buchanan because she was "alarmed." "[T]he moment I took to teach the kids, it was kind of smashed. Like you can't teach kids this. In fact, you're going to be charged for even bringing this up," Buchanan told the Salt Lake Tribune.
The thing that makes matters worse is that Buchanan's husband also had his shirt off, and hasn't been charged with a crime. Because Buchanan's husband doesn't have breasts.
Utah's lewdness law forbids exposure of "the female breast below the top of the areola," however Buchanan's attorneys argue that the law unfairly discriminates against and places a burden on women. Buchanan filed a motion asking a judge to find Utah's lewdness law unconstitutional. "Simply because Miss Buchanan is a woman, she is facing this charge," Leah Farrell, an attorney at the ACLU of Utah said, per NPR. "Therefore, women throughout Utah are at higher risk of facing a criminal charge simply because of their gender. There are different ideas around what morality is or is not. But the state's reach to criminalize morality based on gender and gender stereotyping is incredibly problematic."
Utah's lewdness law was upheld by the judge, who agreed with the prosecutor's argument that the lewdness law is based in what American society considers nudity, and that includes women's breasts.
It's unclear whether or not Buchanan will appeal the judge's decision. If she doesn't, the case will move toward a trial with Buchanan facing three counts of lewdness involving a child. Buchanan could spend 10 years on the sex offender registry, which would prevent her from seeing her own stepchildren.
"Whatever is going to happen is going to happen," Buchanan told the Salt Lake Tribune in September. "And it's either going to go really well or it's going to go really poorly. But, ultimately, I don't think of myself as a criminal and so I'm going to continue as if I wasn't a criminal."
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