Public indecency

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Public indecency refers to activity prohibited by the law in many locations. Public indecency is used as a blanket term for activities that authorities would like to prohibit but that may not be explicitly defined as prohibited. It may also be referred to as "sexual misconduct" or "public lewdness". Common incidents include indecent exposure and sexual intercourse or masturbation in public view.

Legal status in the United States


In the early 1900s, women were expected to wear cumbersome dress and pantaloon combinations when swimming. In 1907, Annette Kellerman, an Australian swimmer, was arrested on a Boston beach for public indecency for wearing her trademark one-piece swimsuit. After a public outcry at the arrest, the style had become generally acceptable by the 1910s.


In the fifty states of the United States, state law prohibits exposure of the genitals and/or the female breast in a public place, and may in some states require evidence of intent to shock, arouse or offend other persons. For example, Vermont only prohibits "open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior" so many forms of public nudity are legal.


Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc. 501 U.S. 560 (1991) is a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on freedom of speech and the ability of the government to outlaw certain forms of expressive conduct. The issue was whether Indiana's public indecency law prohibiting total nudity in public places violated the First Amendment. Chief Justice Rehnquist said that the law was clearly within the State's constitutional power because it furthered a substantial governmental interest in protecting societal order and morality. Public indecency statutes reflected moral disapproval of people appearing in the nude among strangers in public places, and this particular law followed a line of State laws, dating back to 1831, banning public nudity.

Politician Willie Logan was arrested for public indecency for masturbating inside a public restroom in Florida. Because Logan had been inside a closed and locked bathroom stall at the time of the incident, the charges were later dropped.

A 21-year-old woman was ticketed in 2003 for appearing naked on Internet. The photos were taken in a downtown bar in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Six male riders were charged with public indecency during the 2005 World Naked Bike Ride Chicago ride and later prosecuted with sentences ranging from fines and non-expungable conviction to three months court supervision.

Legal status in India

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) is often used to charge sex workers with vague crimes such as "public indecency" or being a "public nuisance" without explicitly defining what these consist of.

Scots Law Crimes of Indecency


Certain laws are in place in Scotland to protect the welfare of children under the age of puberty. In Scotland and in the legal sense, puberty is at the age of 12 for girls and 14 for the age of males.

Definition: "A crime at common law for any person to indulge in indecent practises towards children under the age of puberty, whether they are consenting or not". Examples of this could include indecently exposing private parts of a female or male to young children, improper handling of the private parts of children, inducing children to handle the private parts of others and taking indecent photographs of children.

Statute offences
Section 6 of the Criminal Law (Consolidation)(Scotland) Act 1995 makes it an offence to show any lewd, indecent or libidinous behavior towards a girl who is between the age of 12 and 16. If the female is under the age of 12, it would revert to the common law offence.
Public Indecency
Indecent conduct could be constituted as being criminal in some circumstances, e.g. indecent exposure, sexual intercourse in public view. Public could include almost anywhere, including the person's own home if it could be seen through an open window by a person outside. Determination of indecency will depend on the time and place. For example, certain sex theatre shows are not illegal as they are advertised as such and should therefore not be offensive to the public if in enclosed viewing. So long as the public as aware of the content of the show, it would not be regarded as public indecency.
Indecent Assault
Indecent assault is not a separate crime but is linked to the crime of assault where a person touches another person private parts without their consent. This offence is regarded as a common law crime.

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