Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Truth About Topfreedom in Columbus, Ohio

Every summer in Columbus, Ohio, women take off their shirts and have their breasts painted at the ComFest music event at Goodale Park in the heart of the city. On the Comfest web site, the rules warn that any "inappropriate behavior" towards women who choose to go shirtless is not acceptable, and advises people to "chill, dude, they're just boobs."

Although I cannot find the exact ruling online, apparently several years ago a woman was arrested for being topfree in Columbus, and the courts threw out the case because the law prohibits the exposure of genitalia, and it was ruled that breasts were not private parts. Since then, women who exercise their topfree equality with men are not bothered by the police.

The topfreedom issue has been a well-kept secret in Columbus. Outside of some mentions here and there by topfree advocates, or some news coverage of the ComFest event, the general population does not know that women can legally expose their breasts the same as men in Central Ohio. Recently all that changed when a firefighter was arrested for indecent exposure when he showed his penis to a woman sunbathing topfree in Berliner Park. The arrest in May created slight local news interest, but it was the conviction in November and the subsequent claims of entrapment that have elevated the story internationally.

Make no mistake, this is a complicated issue and I am not a lawyer, but I do feel that the incident does have importance as a nudist or topfree issue, simply because the police not only allowed the women to sunbathe topfree for several days, they actually protected her right to do so by arresting a man who allegedly harrassed her sexually.

The story made national news when ABC ran a story about the incident, calling it a "sting operation", insinuating that the woman was employed by the police. Later, ABC was forced to clarify their story with the following statement: "The sunbathing woman is not affiliated with the police department and she was not asked to take part in the sting operation, according to a spokesperson for the department." Today, the original link to the ABC story no longer works, and a search of the ABC News website appears to show that the story has been permanently removed. Reason still has most of the text from the article online.

Even the Topfree Equal Rights Association has the story wrong in it's December 28, 2007 post, insisting that "it's likely the woman co-operated with police", when there is absolutely no evidence to support this conclusion.

Whatever the intent of the woman, or of the firefighter, or of the police, the fact remains that a woman sunbathing topfree in a public park was allowed her equality, day after day, even after a detective said that she "had become a spectacle". The only action police took was to ask her to move to the back of the park, which she did, but men still kept driving by to take a look at her.

The bottom line is this: women should be allowed topfree equality the same as men. It's an equal rights issue. And, like the incident in Columbus, anyone interfering with that right should be the one punished for bad behavior. Women should not be denied equal rights simply based on the supposition that men will behave badly when exposed to bare female breasts, or that someone might find such exposure "offensive".

I often wonder why topfree advocates do not take advantage of the laws in Columbus. At ComFest I have never seen representatives from TERA, AANR or TNS at any of the booths. Instead of only showing up at trouble spots, such as Huntington Beach or Brattleboro, body freedom advocacy groups need to organize in law-friendly areas. A little organization in a city like Columbus could bring out more women to participate in topfree activities, and spark some wider acceptance of topfreedom elsewhere.

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1 comment:

Mike said...

Excellent reporting!

One worry at Mazo Beach is that drawing attention also draws opposition. They try to stay under-the-radar in order to survive. If lots of women start baring it all in Columbus, you can bet that the religious forces will be there too.

I concur with your observation -- it's easier to swim upstream when there isn't much current. You should drop them a link to this post.