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‘I wasn’t nude, I was topless’: woman at Minnesota beach sparks debate about public nudity

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A Duluth woman’s sunbathing habits are sparking statewide conversation on how nudity should be defined.

Posted: Jul 12, 2019 8:02 AM
Updated: Jul 12, 2019 8:06 AM

Minneapolis, MN (WCCO) -- The beaches of Duluth are known for their serenity, but what unfolded in the sand last week is causing quite the stir. A Duluth woman’s sunbathing habits are sparking statewide conversation on how nudity should be defined.

Michelle Bennett was topless when an officer asked her to put her top back on, but what happened next was complicated.

“A woman approached me after about 20 minutes of laying in the sun, asking me to put a top on, saying I was making her children uncomfortable,” Bennett said.

Bennett says she regularly sunbathes without a top on at local Duluth beaches. But last week a woman who was uncomfortable and a police officer tried to put a stop to it.

“He heard that someone has been refusing to put a top on and that it wasn’t a nude beach,” Bennett said. “I pointed out to him that I wasn’t nude, I was topless.”

The two had a long discussion before Bennett agreed to put her top back on.

“They really couldn’t establish if I was breaking a law because of that ambiguous language,” she said.

The state statute on indecent exposure states it’s when someone willfully and lewdly exposes the person’s body, or the private parts thereof. That’s a statute that’s up for interpretation and not always enforced.

“If there’s people that are around that are feeling uncomfortable with behavior that’s attached to a law stating that that behavior isn’t legal, then that’s a point to step in,” Ingrid Hornibrook, with the Duluth Police Department, said.

It’s also a situation that has people divided.

“In an area like Duluth, where that’s not common, are you doing it because you’re trying to bring attention to yourself?” one Duluth beach-goer said.

Bennett said if men’s breasts are fair game to be exposed in public, women’s should be too, but it’s not legally clear as to what’s decent and what’s not. Depending on where you live, counties, cities, and parks can have their own ordinances on how nudity is defined. But as WCCO found, those can be vaguely worded as well.

There is a clear exception to state law though: breastfeeding is always allowed.

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