Ventura County Public Defender Liana Johnsson is making efforts to allow women to go topless in California parks and beaches, which has raised statewide questions about what constitutes indecent or lewd behavior, and whether this type of exposure falls under Megan’s Law, which requires convicted sex offenders to register with local police.
Orange County Public Defender, Carol E. Lavacot, said Megan’s Law is too broad, and that she sees Johnsson’s efforts to change aspects of the law as positive steps.
Considering these people as being guilty of misdemeanors can create a real problem for a law enforcement body that is already busy and overwhelmed, she said. Lavacot also said there is reason to be concerned that sunbathers may be listed as sex offenders for indecent exposure.
“I believe there is cause for concern because it is a possibility that it could happen,” Lavacot said.
According to Nathan Narankin, communications director for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, there are some states that have laws stating that it is indecent for a woman to show her breasts under any circumstances. However, he said that under the current California Megan’s Law, it only makes it a crime for a woman to expose her breasts if it is done with lewd intent. Topless sunbathing is usually considered indecent, but not lewd, Lockyer said.
If a woman tries “lewdly arousing the passions of those around her,” she will most likely be convicted of indecent exposure. In California, if someone is convicted of exposing themselves with lewd intent, the person must register as a sex offender. Someone who is convicted of a misdemeanor for indecent exposure would only be required to register under Megan’s Law, but information would not be available to the public on new government websites, Narankin said.
Narankin said the chances of sunbathers at parks and beaches being convicted of indecent exposure with lewd intent is unheard of, as far as he knows.
“I am not aware of anyone who is a registered sex offender whose registered offense is nude sunbathing,” Narankin said.
Those who are listed on the website for indecent exposure are flashers, Narankin said.
Joe Rosato, spokesperson for the California Department of Parks and Recreation, said topless sunbathing is not allowed on any state beach, and the department is required to make sure no one is doing it.
It has never been a big problem, but it does happen occasionally, he said.
“What our rangers do when they encounter someone topless is ask them to cover up,” he said. “We usually get 100 percent compliance.”
Paul Rapoport, coordinator of the Topfree Equal Rights Association, said this issue goes further than the sex offender problem and is really about women’s equality.
He said he agrees with the principle of Johnsson’s efforts to allow women to go topless without being considered indecent, but the freedom should not be limited to beaches and parks.
He said if women really want to be equal to men they should have the right to choose when and where they want to be topless.
Women are capable of making the right decisions to know under what circumstances they should be topless, and if they choose to do so, it should be their choice, he said.
“Women are not weak and stupid,” Rapoport said.
When Johnsson takes this issue further, Rapoport said he is afraid the court will try to fix the problem by saying the women will just not have to register as sex offenders, but he hopes she does not stop there.
Johnsson was unavailable for comment.