Rose Picklo's arrest tests rights of women to go topless in Minneapolis

Hennepin County

Hennepin County

It's not against the law for a woman to go topless in Minnesota, but if someone around her gets offended, police can still drag her off to jail.

Last week, a 23-year-old soccer fan from North Dakota, Rose Picklo, took her shirt off during a stuffy Loons game in TCF Bank Stadium. Despite there being many half-naked men in the vicinity (drunk male fans have been watching the game shirtless snow or shine, since the frigid inaugeral Loons game in March), someone called University Police on Picklo. She alone was asked to cover up. When she sat down in protest, she was carried off to Hennepin County Jail.

Minneapolis city attorney Susan Segal charged Picklo with indecent exposure. Minnesota statute describes this as "willfully and lewdly" exposing one's private parts, which includes the "breast of any human being." Because a 7-year-old boy saw Picklo topless, her charge was kicked up to a gross misdemeanor.

A woman who takes off her shirt because she's overheating is very different from a woman who lifts up her shirt to flash someone, says attorney Allan Caplan of Caplan and Tamburino, because that suggests a difference in intent. He doesn't believe breasts should be considered lewd by their very nature of being attached to a woman.

"One might think how come a woman bares her chest she's charged with a crime, while a man standing next to her doing the exact same thing wouldn't be charged, and it probably is a cultural issue," Caplan says. "I don't think people should be charged with crimes for doing this sort of thing."

Go Topless is a national movement that aims to give women the right to bare their chests everywhere it's legal for men to do so. Each year, organizers in Minnesota arrange rallies where women go topless in public protest. No one has ever been arrested.

But they have met consequences elsewhere in America, where individual cities have adopted prohibitions that apply only to women. In 2014, topless activist Sonoko Tagami was ticketed on a Chicago beach for refusing to cover her breasts. She used the opportunity to sue the city of Chicago and appeal the consitutionality of its ordinance. Topless activists hope this case will set a national precedent for equal rights.

"I respect [Picklo's] intent, if she was just hot, or if she was just a fan," says Minnesota topless activist Faith Neumann. "If there were other men there going topless, then I would have done the same thing."

Neumann feels she has the consitutional right to go topless in public, yet not the freedom to do so. The problem seems to stem from universal confusion over the difference between breasts and sexual organs, she says.

"Did that child see any man who was topless at that game, and if he went to the men's bathroom, did he see a penis? To me that seems way more inappropriate."

Fellow activist Madeline Fleming, who hosted Minneapolis' last topless rally in August, says in the two years she's lived in the Twin Cities, she's never seen a case where a woman was actually charged with a crime for standing around without a shirt on.

"What's going on right now? It's my understanding that the Twin Cities had a nude beach. It's not illegal to be topless in Minneapolis," Fleming says.

She says the very first time she felt preyed upon was at five years old, when someone yelled at her to put a shirt on as she rode her bike down the street with the neighbor boy. The children didn't think anything was amiss, but Fleming realized that adults regarded her body sexually.

"When it's hot outside and every other frat boy in the city and old man got no shirt on, and you're suffering through a bra and a shirt, for me there's just tons of instances where I wish I didn't have to wear a shirt," she says.

"It's coming to a point where we need to admit the problem isn't what women are wearing. It makes men seem like they're these wild dogs that can't control themselves, these brainless, mindless, sexual monsters that are just going to jump on anything they see. We need to change that."