Not breaking the law: Women can go topless in New York

Women in New York cannot be arrested for roaming the city topless, reports the New York Times.

Shruti Dhapola May 20, 2013 11:05:11 IST
Not breaking the law: Women can go topless in New York

Women in New York cannot be arrested for roaming the city topless, reports the New York Times.

According to the report, the New York City police officers were told in February:

If they happened upon a topless woman, they were not to arrest her... The command was read at 10 consecutive roll calls. Each of the city’s 34,000 officers, in theory, got the message: For “simply exposing their breasts in public,” women are guilty of no crime.

The order came as a part of a memorandum that was issued in response to performance artist Holly Van Voast's federal lawsuit against the civic authorities and the police. Van Voast, known for baring her breasts quite often in public, had been booked by the police several times in the past for 'public lewdness  and 'indecent exposure'.

However, as far as New York's judiciary is concerned, it had ruled in 1992, that women could not be arrested for going topless. As this blog post points out, "In the 1992 case People v. Ramona Santorelli and Mary Lou Schloss were arrested along with five others in a Rochester park for violating a law which prohibited women from showing "that portion of the breast which is below the top of the areola." (Areola means the coloring around the nipple).

The duo argued that, "the law was "discriminatory on its face since it defines 'private or intimate parts' of a woman's but not a man's body as including a specific part of the breast." The New York Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the two women."

In fact, there's also a national topless day in America on 21 August.

Not breaking the law Women can go topless in New York

An NYPD car is seen in this file photo. Reuters

On the face of it, the right of a woman to go topless, without being arrested, might sound trivial and superficial. Many might even argue that perhaps feminists should worry about other pressing concerns such as domestic violence and sexual assault rather than demand the right to go topless.

But at a larger level the police order signifies that the New York Police is finally recognising that women too have the right to occupy public spaces in the way men do. Just as a shirtless man will not face arrest for lewd behaviour, so too women should have the right for baring their chest without being arrested for the same.

It appears that the Police department has finally recognised that you can't force citizens to wear a particular piece of clothing just because it would uphold certain moral codes and conventions they believe in.

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