Duluth Woman Raises Questions Regarding Ambiguous Language Used to Define “Indecent Exposure” in Minnesota Laws

A Duluth resident challenges whether or not she is breaking the law by being topless on the beach.

DULUTH, Minn.- A Duluth woman is raising questions regarding the ambiguous language used to define “indecent exposure” in Minnesota laws.

This, after an individual called the police on the woman for being topless at Park Point beach and refusing to cover up.

Michelle Bennett enjoys the beach as much as the next person, but unlike most women you’ll see, she enjoys it topless.

She’s been going topless at Park Point beach for two years and never had problems until last month.

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

Bennett declined to put a top on, so the woman called police.

Bennett was later approached by a Duluth officer who didn’t know if he could arrest her.

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

Bennett referred the officer to the Minnesota law that says a person can’t publicly expose their private parts, but that same law doesn’t say if a woman’s breasts fall under that category.

A separate Minnesota law does say, however, nudity includes a woman’s breasts, but nudity is only defined as illegal if you’re presenting it to an audience.

Bennett says she wasn’t doing this for an audience and because of that, wasn’t breaking a law.

“I wasn’t being lewd, I was just laying in the sun, minding my own business,” Bennett said.

It’s why police chose not to arrest her.

“In the end they really couldn’t establish if I was breaking a law because of that ambiguous language,” Bennett said.

Duluth police say because of the laws’ ambiguity, each individual situation is determined by how much of a disturbance it’s causing.

“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,” Duluth Police Department’s public information officer Ingrid Hornibrook said.

Fox 21 spoke to people at Park Point beach to hear what they thought about a woman being topless there.

Some had no problem with it.

“If it’s not just flashing around but just minding their own business, totally fine with that.”

Some disagreed.

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

But almost everyone we spoke to said that if the language is ambiguous, it should be changed.

“Unanimously, I think we’d like that language to be clarified and for the police officers to all be aware of what the actual law is,” Bennett said.

Bennett eventually did put her top back on that day.

But after the incident, she reached out to Duluth mayor Emily Larson and the city attorney hoping to make a change regarding the vague laws so she doesn’t run into that experience again.

“I don’t think that we can just… Put our tops on every time someone says that you might be doing something wrong,” Bennett said.

Bennett has left several messages with Duluth leaders but has not directly heard back from the mayor or city attorney.

Since the statues are state laws and not city ordinances, ultimately only state legislatures have the power to change the wording of the laws, if they so choose.

For information on the Minnesota statue for indecent exposure, click here.

For information on the Minnesota statue relating to sexually explicit material, click here, and for the definitions of the language used in that section, click here.

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