A Utah woman is facing criminal charges for being topless in her own home as prosecutors argue that women’s chests (but not men’s) are considered lewd in American society. On January 22, a judge agreed with prosecutors’ interpretation of existing lewdness laws and denied a motion to declare the lewdness statute unconstitutional.
Tilli Buchanan says she and her husband took their shirts off while hanging drywall in their garage when his children, ages nine and 13, walked in and saw the pair topless. The children’s mother reported Buchanan to child welfare officials, and she was then charged with three class A misdemeanors, which come with the possibility of jail time. If convicted, Buchanan will also spend 10 years on the sex offender registry. Her husband, who was also topless, was not charged.
In court, Buchanan’s attorneys argued that recently the 10th Circuit Court ruled in favor of two Colorado women who went topless as part of the Free the Nipple movement, which argues that laws mandating that women cover their chests without holding men to the same standards are discriminatory. But in Utah, prosecutors say the cases are not the same, and Judge Kara Pettit agreed according to the Salt Lake Tribune:
“The portion of the law that Buchanan is charged under is much different, Pettit ruled. It prohibits lewd behavior by both women and men in front of children, and also requires prosecutors to show that the defendant exposed themselves and knew their actions would either cause ‘affront or alarm’ to the children or ‘with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desires’ of either party.”
Judge Pettit’s ruling argued that it shouldn’t be up to courts of law to decide if laws are fair: “It is not for the court to decide whether the Legislature’s enumeration of lewd conduct is wise or sound policy.” The statement does beg some questions around where one might go to challenge unfair laws if not court.
Buchanan says that the incident happened in fall 2016 and remembers she used the situation in her home as a teachable moment, telling her stepchildren that “a woman’s chest wasn’t inherently sexual, and that if they were comfortable seeing their dad’s chest, it shouldn’t be different for her.” However, authorities say it happened sometime between November 2017 and January 2018. And though Buchanan was not interviewed until much later, prosecutors say there was alcohol involved and allege that Buchanan said she would only put her breasts away if her husband showed her his penis.
It’s unclear whether Buchanan will appeal the ruling. If not, the case will soon be headed to trial.