Topless woman at Minnesota beach sparks debate over public nudity

By Karen Drew - Reporter/Anchor, Kayla Clarke

DULUTH, Minn. - A Minnesota woman who swims topless in Lake Superior has sparked a debate over the state's indecent exposure law.

She said someone called police on her while she was sunbathing topless. Michelle Bennett has been going topless at Lake Superior Park for years and never had any complaints until last month.

"A woman approached me after about 20 minutes of laying in the sun, asking me to put a top on, saying I was making her children uncomfortable," Bennett said.

Bennett declined, and 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 the same law doesn't say if a woman's breasts fall under that category. A separate Minnesota law does say nudity includes a woman's breasts but nudity is only defined as illegal if you're presenting it to an audience.

Bennett said she wasn't doing this for an audience and because of that wasn't breaking a law. That's why police chose not to arrest her, because of the law's ambiguity. Police said each individual situation is determined by how much of a disturbance it's causing.

Bennett eventually did put her top back on that day, but after the incident, she reached out to the Duluth mayor and the city attorney hoping to make a change regarding the vague laws so she doesn't have that experience again.

Bennett said her encounter with police lasted 45 minutes before officers eventually decided not to ticket her for indecent exposure.

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