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Indecent Exposure Definition
(Penalties & 4 Common Types Explained)

Indecent exposure is the act of revealing one’s private parts in order to frighten or upset someone else. Exposure is considered indecent legally whenever a reasonable person would or should know that his act may be seen by others, and that it is likely to offend or cause alarm. Indecent exposure is a misdemeanor in most states.
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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

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What Constitutes Indecent Behavior?

In the eyes of the law, "Indecency" typically includes an element of lustful or sexual indulgence on the part of the defendant. For example, having sex in a public place satisfies this requirement. Other public sexual acts may also qualify as lewd or indecent behavior. The level of sexual contact required varies from state to state. The exposure of private body parts, known as "flashing" or exhibitionism, also constitutes lewd behavior in many states.

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Which Acts Constitute Indecent Exposure?

To be convicted of indecent exposure in most states, a person must:

  • Intentionally expose their naked body or genitals;
  • Expose themselves to someone who might be offended or annoyed by it;
  • Intend to direct attention to themselves;
  • Intend to sexually gratify themselves or offend someone else when they do it.

Is it Indecent Exposure if Nobody is Around?

Exposure must occur in front of at least 1 other person who may be annoyed or offended by the act. Exposing yourself even in a public place when nobody else is around does not qualify as indecent exposure under the law.

Is Exhibitionism a Form of Indecent Exposure?

Exhibitionism, which is the act of exposing the genitals to become sexually excited or having a strong desire to be observed by other people during sexual activity, can warrant legal sanction in the form of indecent exposure offenses. Laws prohibiting public exhibitionism vary by state but have many similarities. To obtain a conviction for exhibitionism, the prosecutor must produce evidence sufficient to prove that the defendant committed open and public acts of indecency.

Exemptions for Breastfeeding

Most U.S. states exempt breastfeeding mothers from prosecution for indecent exposure. Passed in 1999, U.S. Public Law 106–58 Sec. 647. states 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."

Indecent Exposure Penalties

In most states, misdemeanor indecent exposure may be punished with up to 6 months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, and the obligation to register as a sex offender for a minimum of 10 years.

A felony conviction for indecent exposure can occur when aggravating factors exist. For example, the prosecutor may charge you with a felony if you expose yourself inside a home or “inhabited” building. This makes the crime a “wobbler,” since the prosecution can charge you with either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the facts of the case.

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