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Going Topless Could Land a Utah Stepmom in Jail

A young, pretty and blond girl topless on the beach, his back to the camera, sitting on the seashore. Portimão, Algarve, Portugal
By Andrew Leonatti on February 14, 2020 11:19 AM

Being hot and sweaty is the pits. It's why people usually only wear a towel when they use a sauna, and why many more don't even want to think about being inside of one. And why some people just like to get really — really — comfortable when they're at home.

But one Utah woman's attempt to use these facts as a teachable moment for her stepchildren about sexism will now see her facing criminal charges.

Woman Charged With 'Lewdness'

A day of installing insulation (a really gross undertaking) in their garage left Tilli Buchanan and her husband hot, sweaty, and covered in insulation material. They stepped inside their home and stripped down to everything but their underwear.

Her stepchildren saw her topless and without a bra. "This isn't a sexual thing," Buchanan remembers telling the kids. "I should be able to wear exactly what my husband wears."

But in Utah, that apparently isn't the case. After the children's mother alerted authorities, Buchanan is now facing a misdemeanor charge of lewdness involving a child. A conviction could mean jail time and registering as a sex offender for 10 years.

Oh, and her topless husband? He is facing no charges.

Attempt to 'Free the Nipple' Fails

In addition to genital exposure, Utah's lewdness involving a child statute states that someone is guilty if they expose "the female breast below the top of the areola" in a public place or in a private place that the person "should know will likely cause ... alarm or with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of the ... child."

But after the 10th Circuit upheld a lower court ruling finding that a ban on female toplessness in Fort Collins, Colorado, was unconstitutional, Buchanan's lawyers argued the Utah law should meet the same fate.

A Utah judge found differently, however. Utah Third Judicial District Court Judge Kara Pettit says this is different from "free the nipple" campaigns, and said it is up to elected lawmakers — and not judges — to decide "community standards" on what is lewd.

​So, Is It Illegal to Go Topless?​

​While the 10th Circuit was widely praised for throwing out the Fort Collins prohibition on public-nipple baring, they are an outlier still. Many states and cities still have bans on female toplessness, whether in public or in private while in the presence of children.

Whether these laws exist, as one 7th Circuit judge once wrote, "out of reverence or fear of female breasts," we'll let you decide.

In the meantime, you should probably check up on your local laws.

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