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Public urination is generally regarded as an act of public indecency; as illustrated in this Cartoon print from 1799

Public indecency refers to conduct undertaken in a non-private or (in some jurisdictions) publicly-viewable location, which are deemed indecent in nature, such as indecent exposure and sexual intercourse or masturbation in public view.[citation needed] Such activity is often illegal. The legal definition in a given location may not specify all activities that would be covered.

Public indecency may also be referred to as "sexual misconduct" or "public lewdness".

Legal status in the United States



Man and woman in swimsuits, ca. 1910; she is exiting a bathing machine

File:Annette Kellerman.jpg

Annette Kellerman, early 1900s, in swimwear which she wore when arrested for public indecency

In the United States of America 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.[1]


In the most states of the United States, state law prohibits exposure of the genitals and/or the female breast in a public place, while in other states simple nudity is legal, but evidence of intent to shock, arouse or offend other persons (lewd conduct) is evidence of prohibited conduct. For example, in most states, is a criminal offense punishable by fines and/or imprisonment, and/or registered sex offender requirements and restrictions. Some states permit local governments to set local standards. Public nudity itself has not been a crime throughout California since a 2000 Appellate Court ruling, and prosecutions and convictions are unheard of, but arrests do still occur, though they also are unusual[2], and Vermont only prohibits "open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior"[3] so many forms of public nudity are legal.

Indecent exposure is defined as a crime in the United States Armed Forces by Article 120(n), Uniform Code of Military Justice. The changes to Article 120 became part of the Manual for Courts-Martial in the 2008 edition.[4]

Exemption for breastfeeding of infants

Most states exempt breastfeeding mothers from prosecution under these statutes.[5][6] U.S. Public Law 106-58 Sec. 647. enacted in 1999, specifically provides that "a woman may breastfeed her child at any location in a Federal building or on Federal property, if the woman and her child are otherwise authorized to be present at the location."

The application of state and federal statutes may be modified by judicial precedent.[7][8]


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.

A 21-year-old woman was ticketed in 2003 for appearing naked on the Internet. The photos were taken in a downtown bar in Lincoln, Nebraska.[9].

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-expungeable 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.[10]

Legal status in Scotland

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


See also

de:Erregung öffentlichen Ärgernisses

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