Criminal Law

The Crime of Indecent Exposure

Society takes sex crimes very seriously when creating laws and punishing offenders. Many of these crimes involve violence or include minors. Examples of sex crimes include rape, incest and child sexual abuse. Most states even have laws that make it illegal to expose certain body parts to another, although there isn't any violence or touching. This crime is called indecent exposure.

Indecent exposure is the crime of exposing a private body part to others. It's usually done with the intent to offend them or to gratify a sexual desire. Since there's usually no violence or touching of the victim, indecent exposure is usually considered a misdemeanor.

misdemeanor is considered a less serious crime. If any contact is made between the offender and the victim, the crime may turn into sexual assault. Sexual assault is usually considered a more serious crime and may be classified as a felony. An offender may also face harsher punishment if a minor is the victim of the indecent exposure.

Extent of Indecent Exposure Laws

What society views as indecent changes with the times. In most cases, people can show more today than they could years ago. For example, many modern bathing suits, such as bikinis, would have been considered indecent exposure 100 years ago.

States vary as to what exact body parts may be considered indecent exposure. The most common body parts include the genitals, the buttocks and the breasts. Almost every state has laws that ban the exposure of genitals.

Modern state laws vary in the language used to describe the crime of indecent exposure. Some examples of state laws that describe indecent exposure include:

  • Alabama - a person commits the crime of indecent exposure if, with intent to arouse or gratify sexual desire of himself or of any person other than his spouse, he exposes his genitals under circumstances in which he knows his conduct is likely to cause affront or alarm in any public place or on the private premises of another or so near thereto as to be seen from such private premises
  • California - every person who willfully and lewdly, either: 1. exposes his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed thereby; or, 2. procures, counsels, or assists any person so to expose himself or take part in any model artist exhibition, or to make any other exhibition of himself to public view, or the view of any number of persons, such as is offensive to decency, or is adapted to excite to vicious or lewd thoughts or acts, is guilty of a misdemeanor
  • Montana - a person commits the offense of indecent exposure if the person knowingly or purposely exposes the person's genitals under circumstances in which the person knows the conduct is likely to cause affront or alarm in order to: (a) abuse, humiliate, harass, or degrade another; or (b) arouse or gratify the person's own sexual response or desire or the sexual response or desire of any person
  • New York - a person is guilty of exposure if he appears in a public place in such a manner that the private or intimate parts of his body are unclothed or exposed. The breast may be exposed except in commercial ventures, such as topless waitresses.  
  • West Virginia - a person is guilty of indecent exposure when such person intentionally exposes his or her sex organs or anus or the sex organs or anus of another person, or intentionally causes such exposure by another or engages in any overt act of sexual gratification, and does so under circumstances in which the person knows that the conduct is likely to cause affront or alarm

Breastfeeding Exception

Most states have a breastfeeding exception to their indecent exposure laws. This exception allows a mom to feed her baby in public without legal penalty even though her breast may be partially shown. An example of a breastfeeding exception is written in the New York indecent exposure law: this section shall not apply to the breastfeeding of infants or to any person entertaining or performing in a play, exhibition, show or entertainment.

Employer Liability

An employer can be found civilly liable for indecent exposure if an employee commits indecent exposure during the course of his employment. Employers are required to take reasonable steps to prevent any type of harassment or illegal exposure. The most common occurrences are at company-sponsored events such as office parties that serve alcohol. Employers must not serve alcohol to anyone visibly intoxicated and should have strict anti-harassment policies in place.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can I be charged with indecent exposure if someone sees me without clothes through my window while I am at home?
  • Are all indecent exposure laws applied equally to women as well as to men?
  • Can a store or restaurant ask me to leave if I need to breastfeed my child?
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