LEWISTON — When women bare their chests in public Friday in Farmington to prove they can, they likely won’t run afoul of the law.
That’s because it’s legal in Maine to show your breasts in public. It’s even legal to bare it all as long as you don’t show your genitalia in a way that’s likely to make jaws drop.
Maine’s indecent conduct statute says a person is in violation of that law if the person is in a public place and “knowingly exposes (his or her) genitals under circumstances that in fact are likely to cause affront or alarm.”
The Class E misdemeanor is punishable by up to six months in jail.
It’s also a crime to expose one’s so-called privates in a private place if he or she seeks to be seen from a public place or a different private place. In other words, it might be illegal to engage in exhibitionism from the window of a building overlooking a busy sidewalk or a neighbor’s dining room window at the dinner hour, for instance.
There is some gray area.
In an 8-year-old Bangor case, two University of Maine students were charged under the “indecent exposure” law after running naked through town, according to published reports.
When they got to court, one of the women apparently tried to plead guilty only to have the District Court judge refuse to accept it.
The judge — a woman — eventually dismissed the cases. The charges were dropped because the women’s genitalia, in the strictest sense of the word, were not visible, according to the newspaper report.
According to Lt. Jack Peck of the Farmington Police Department, UMF student Andrea Simoneau, who is organizing Friday’s Topless March for Gender Equity, came to the department in the early stages of planning the march to alert police of her plans and to inquire about permissions or permits she needed to organize the event.
Officers from that department contacted District Attorney Norm Croteau for guidance, Peck said, and were told it was lawful under Maine statute to be topless in the downtown, so there was no need for police to grant special permission.
Town Manager Richard Davis said the town does not require parade permits or other permits for large gatherings, so there was no need for Simoneau to apply for permission with the town either.
A group of Farmington citizens has approached the town about the possibility of enacting a municipal ordinance banning nudity, but Davis said there was not enough time before Friday’s event to adopt such a measure. Even if selectmen receive a petition this week, the town clerk would have to verify signatures and the measure could be posted on a warrant at the town’s next annual meeting, which is March 2011, unless there’s an “intervening special town meeting,” Davis said.
Selectmen have already made it clear that they would not favor adopting a local ordinance, Davis said, but would prefer to see the Legislature address the issue at the state level so that any prohibitions on nudity would be standardized across Maine.