SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah woman charged with a crime after her stepchildren saw her topless in her own home is fighting the case that could force her to register as a sex offender, citing a court ruling that overturned a topless ban in Colorado.
Attorneys for Tilli Buchanan argue that the law is unfair because it treats men and women differently for baring their chests. They are asking a judge to overturn her misdemeanor lewdness charges and declare that part of the law unconstitutional.
Prosecutors counter that nudity is commonly understood to include women’s breasts in American society and that courts have upheld laws based on morality.
Judge Kara Pettit heard the case Tuesday but said it was “too important of an issue” to decide immediately. She plans to rule in the coming months.
Buchanan said she and her husband had taken off their shirts to keep their clothes from getting dusty while they worked in their garage in late 2017 or early 2018.
When the children, ages 9 through 13, walked in, she “explained she considers herself a feminist and wanted to make a point that everybody should be fine with walking around their house or elsewhere with skin showing,” her lawyers said in court documents.
Buchanan was charged with three counts of misdemeanor lewdness involving a child in February. It came after child welfare officials began an investigation involving the kids that wasn’t tied to Buchanan and the children’s mother reported the incident to authorities because she was “alarmed.”
Buchanan’s husband was not charged.
“It was in the privacy of my own home. My husband was right next to me in the same exact manner that I was, and he’s not being prosecuted,” she said after the court hearing.
If convicted, Buchanan could be required to register as a sex offender for 10 years.
A global movement advocating for the rights of women to go topless, called the Free the Nipple campaign, has seen mixed success fighting similar ordinances in other parts of the country.
Supporters celebrated in February when the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling blocking a Fort Collins, Colorado, law against women going topless in public.
The justices sided with activists who argued that the ban treated women and men differently under law. The court has jurisdiction over federal cases from several states, including Utah, but authorities have said the ruling doesn’t immediately invalidate other local laws.
That same month, the highest court in New Hampshire upheld the conviction of three members of the Free the Nipple campaign who were arrested for going topless on a beach in 2016.
A public indecency law in Missouri also was upheld in 2017, and a court allowed a San Francisco public nudity ban to stay on the books in 2013.