Utah woman fights charges af­ter step­kids see her top­less

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION -

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, point­ing to a court rul­ing that over­turned a top­less ban in Colorado and helped fuel a move­ment.

Tilli Buchanan’s at­tor­neys ar­gue that Utah’s law on lewd­ness in­volv­ing a child is un­fair be­cause it treats men and women dif­fer­ently for bar­ing their chests. They are ask­ing a judge to over­turn her mis­de­meanor 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.

“It was in the pri­vacy of my own home,” Buchanan said af­ter a court hear­ing last week where a judge said she plans to rule in the com­ing months.

“My hus­band was right next to me in the same ex­act man­ner that I was, and he’s not be­ing pros­e­cuted.”

Buchanan, 27, said she and her hus­band had taken off their shirts to keep their clothes from get­ting dusty while they hung dry­wall in their garage in a Salt Lake City sub­urb in late 2017 or early 2018.

When her hus­band’s three 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 re­lated to Buchanan.

The chil­dren’s mother re­ported the top­less in­ci­dent be­cause she was “alarmed,” au­thor­i­ties said.

Po­lice say Buchanan re­moved her shirt and bra in front of the chil­dren while “un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol” and said that if a man could take off his shirt, a woman should be able to as well.

Her hus­band was not charged. If con­victed, Buchanan could face jail time or fines and may be re­quired to reg­is­ter as a sex of­fender for 10 years.

“It has in­cred­i­bly se­ri­ous con­se­quences,“said Leah Far­rell, an at­tor­ney with the

Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Utah who ar­gued Buchanan’s case.

While peo­ple might have dif­fer­ent feel­ings about male and fe­male bod­ies, the use of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem to en­force them isn’t ap­pro­pri­ate, Far­rell said.

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. 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.

One of the Fort Collins plain­tiffs, Brit Hoagland, said the Utah case is more un­just be­cause Buchanan was in­side her own home.

“Women should not be seen as in­her­ently sex­ual, let alone crim­i­nal, for do­ing some­thing men do ca­su­ally all the time,” said Hoagland, who iden­ti­fies as non­bi­nary, which means their gen­der iden­tity is not strictly male or fe­male.

Top­less bans have been up­held else­where. The New Hamp­shire Supreme Court in Fe­bru­ary af­firmed the con­vic­tion of three mem­bers of the Free the Nip­ple cam­paign who were ar­rested for go­ing top­less on a beach in 2016.

LEAH HOGSTEN/THE SALT LAKE TRI­BUNE

If con­victed, Tilli Buchanan, 27, could face jail or fines and may be re­quired to reg­is­ter as a sex of­fender for 10 years.

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