City IndexWhat are the penalties for public nudity in cities around the world?
We look at the potential maximum penalties for letting it hang out.
Most people are born without clothes on, but only a judge can decide if your body is offensive or not. Throughout history, how we perceive nudity has evolved, and slowly but surely, more and more governments have welcomed people to shed their clothes and show off their birthday suits. Relative to other laws, such as those public sex acts and indecent exposure, legislation against public nudity has been rather lax in western cultures, with many courts allowing citizens to feel the breeze between their knees without undesirable fabric getting in the way.
Yet depending on location, views on nakedness and clothing in general can shift remarkably. The line between free expression and obscenity comes down to the courts. Police and judges can interpret the very loose terminology of "lewd," "obscene," or "indecent" in anyway they see fit, and that goes for public and private spaces. In some places, clothes are getting looser, in others they haven’t even begun to take their shirts off.
We’re looking at punishments for public nudity, so you don’t get caught with your pants down.
We chose 9 CITIES across the globe from New York to Singapore to retrieve our data
90 days in jail
Because there are no federal laws against public nudity, the individual states in the US must determine fair punishment for nude offenders. For instance, New York City Penal Code 245 is pretty clear on the matter: "A person is guilty of public lewdness when he intentionally exposes the private or intimate parts of his body in a lewd manner or commits any other lewd act (a) in a public place, or (b) in private premises under circumstances in which he may readily be observed from either a public place or from other private premises, and with intent that he be so observed. Public lewdness is a class B misdemeanor. Meaning: should you be convicted you will have a permanent criminal record and face up to ninety days in jail."
However, in the past two decades, the Big Apple has been updating its laws, after a 1992 ruling declared that women have the right to go topless whenever and wherever they’d like. In 2005, Jill Coccaro, aka Phoenix Feeley, tested the law and was detained for 12 hours for not wearing her shirt. She successfully sued city of New York for $29,000. Not to be outdone, New Jersey arrested and jailed Feeley for 16 days after refusing to pay 2008 fines for freeing the nipple. Feeley's case sprang advocacy groups into action. They have since launched Go Topless day, which provides aid to women unlawfully charged with going topless.
90 days in prison
Public nudity has many different purposes, ranging from the personal to the political, as House Speaker John Boehner found out. After threatening to cut funding to HIV/AIDS funding as part of the 2012 fiscal cliff negotiations, seven naked protesters rushed Boehner’s office.
Unsurprisingly, the double standards that has activist groups still fighting for equal nudity protection in New York appeared in this situation. Of the seven protestors, only the three female activists were arrested and charged with "lewd and indecent acts," according to ABC News. In Boehner's office, it would appear that some nude bodies are more offensive than others.
90 days in jail
or $2,000 in fines
According Singapore Statutes, public and private nudity comes at a very high price. Appearing nude in public comes with a fine that can reach $2,000, a 3-month jail sentence, or both. Stranger still, you can be arrested for public nudity in your own home, if that location is exposed to the public. So if you’re the type that likes to take a walk in the buff near a window, the Singapore government would recommend a robe because a police officer may enter your house and arrest you.
Singapore Statues Online explains: "Wandering around the house—your house, under your roof—in the buff is considered pornography in Singapore. Worse yet, police officers are allowed to enter your place to slap you with a three-month jail term or up to $2,000 in fines. Ok, the law stipulates that you have to be exposed to public view, but in notoriously strict Singapore that's basically any room with a window."
6 months in prison
and/or $5,000 fine
Canada is a lovely place known for polite company and delicious maple syrup. By proxy, their nudity laws tend to be just as polite. Thankfully, they come down harsh on unwanted displays of nudity, particularly those in front of children. Yet in any case, police must get authorization from the Attorney General before charging the offender. The National Post states: "Sections 173 and 174 concern indecent acts done with intent to insult or offend in a public place. Yet, as various courts have decided, streaking is not prohibited under the law. So a person can be naked in public as long as they are quick about it. At the same time, nude sunbathing, as occurs on many Canadian beaches, is not prohibited. Courts have generally said that most non-sexual and non-harassing nudity is legal. But if you are naked in your car, say ordering a cheese burger, and you can be seen, you are busted. The maximum penalty is six months in prison, a $5,000 fine or both. If you are arrested for public nakedness, though, you are in for some special attention. It is one of only a few sections of the Criminal Code in which police need permission of the Attorney General to lay a charge. Some believe the origin of this is because nudity at times has been a 'political crime' but others are uncertain about why this provision exists."
United Arab Emirates
No less than
6 months imprisonment
Like much of the Middle East, dress code is very strict in Dubai. Campaigns throughout the country warn visitors and citizens of this reminding people inside the city to dress conservatively. This means women must cover their back, shoulders, stomach, while men, their chest and underwear. Public nudity, including sunbathing, is prohibited and being naked in a health club bathroom, is prohibited.
Just to get a sense of how seriously they take this, in 2009 The Telegraph reported that "Raffi Nernekian, a Lebanese national, was arrested after an argument with a local man about the T-shirt, in which the key parts of [Victoria] Beckham’s body are obscured either by her hands or the logo 'Protect the skin you're in.'" The charges against him were eventually dropped, but others aren’t so lucky. People in the UAE that break the clothing laws can face jail time or hefty fines.
Rio de Janeiro
1 year in jail
Brazil, like most of the planet, is split on whether or not the human body is a disgusting mess or not. In Title VI Article 233 of Brazil’s Penal Code, the law against sexual dignity states, "Practicing obscenity in public place or open or exposed to the public: Penalty - detention of three months to one year or a fine."
While this doesn't outright call out public nakedness, this misdemeanor crime is most frequently used against people found naked in unauthorized areas. However, Brazil has numerous places where public nudity is allowed, including beaches.
2 Years imprisonment
According to Article 483 of Morocco's Penal Code: "Anyone who publicly commits any obscene acts or offends public morals by voluntarily appearing nude will be liable to imprisonment for one month to two years and a fine of between 200 to 500 Dirham."
In Morocco, forms of public nudity are often coupled with expressions of protest, which complicates the crime. For an incident in which two members of the feminist activist group FEMEN posed topless and kissing, the suspects were arrested not only for appearing topless but also for being gay. Moroccan law forbids homosexuality and, had these two been citizens, the women could’ve been jailed for more than a year. However, in this case, these two French women were expelled from the country.
The public decency laws in Sudan are so strict that, much like Syria and other countries that follow Sharia law, incidents of public nudity are very low. But public decency in Sudan doesn't just cover what you're not wearing but what you are. Take for instance the 2013 incident in which a woman received 10 lashings for wearing long pants. One could only imagine what would happen if she wasn’t covered at all, but this explanation of the country’s "public decency" code helps explain things:
"After the coup of 1989 when Sudan’s existing ruler Omar al-Bashir seized power, a law was enacted (in 1991) which allowed for public floggings of women who violate Sudan’s 'public decency' code, which can include a woman appearing publicly without a head covering, as in the recent case of journalist, Amira Osmane (whose case is pending), or, as was the case of journalist Luba Ahmed al-Hussein, for wearing pants […] Any woman who wears pants or who doesn't have her head entirely covered by a headscarf can be punished with up to 50 lashes."
Lashings to execution
Once again, public nudity falls into issues of clothing practices and lewd behaviors. Many countries have such strict public obscenity laws, that any amount of skin unclothed by women can be met with harsh punishments, particularly those who follows Sharia Law. The more extreme the government, the more extreme the punishment, and unsurprisingly, ISIS carries out the most disturbing examples.
Only a year ago, women living in Syria were subject to face whippings and executions for breaking dress code. In one instance, a 19-year-old girl was sentenced to 40 lashes for wearing a short-sleeved blouse in a Facebook picture. While this is different from public nudity, cases of that are very rare, because the punishments for even the slightest fraction are so intense.
COVER IMAGE via shutterstock.com