Public indecency

Public indecency

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. [ [ cached version of Herstory: Annette Kellerman] , Internet Archive]


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" [cite web | url = | title = Title 13: Crimes and Criminal Procedure, Chapter 59: Lewdness and Prostitution, 13 V.S.A. § 2601. Lewd and lascivious conduct | work = The Vermont Statutes Online | accessdate = 2006-10-15 ] 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. [ By Kevin O'Hanlon, Associated Press] .

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. [Information obtained directly from Joseph Lawrence, one of those charged in the WNBR Chicago 2005 ride.]

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. [See Prostitution in India]

Legal status in Scotland

Under Scots law, public indecency is covered by Crimes of indecency.


ee also

*Indecent exposure
*Public nudity

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • public — pub·lic 1 adj 1 a: exposed to general view public indecency b: known or recognized by many or most people 2 a: of, relating to, or affecting all of the people or the whole area of a nation or state public statutes b: of or relating to a go …   Law dictionary

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  • indecency — noun ADJECTIVE ▪ gross ▪ public ▪ broadcast (AmE) ▪ legislation to multiply broadcast indecency fines PHRASES ▪ …   Collocations dictionary

  • Public bathing — Ruins of a Roman bath in Dion, Greece, showing the under floor heating system, or hypocaust …   Wikipedia

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  • Public sex — Martin van Maele s print Francion 15 depicts a couple engaging in foreplay outdoors …   Wikipedia

  • public — {{Roman}}I.{{/Roman}} noun 1 the public people in general ADJECTIVE ▪ general VERB + THE PUBLIC ▪ educate, inform ▪ The government was slow to inform the public about the health hazards of asbestos …   Collocations dictionary

  • indecency —    an illegal sexual act    Nearly always by a male, but also used when an older woman copulates with a boy under the age of sixteen. Literally, it means unseemliness of any kind. In former use, it might refer to any extramarital sexual behaviour …   How not to say what you mean: A dictionary of euphemisms

  • public decency — See disorderly conduct; indecency; obscenity …   Ballentine's law dictionary

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