Nudity

Utah Judge Rules Against Topless Stepmom's Equal Protection Challenge

Tilli Buchanan's stepkids saw her topless. Now she could face 10 years on the sex offender registry.

|

A Utah judge denied a motion this week from a woman challenging Utah's lewdness statute. That means Tilli Buchanan could still be placed on the sex offender registry for 10 years after appearing topless in front of her underage stepchildren.

According to Buchanan, she and her husband stripped their shirts off after installing insulation in their garage and getting the itchy substance onto their clothes. When Buchanan's stepchildren saw the couple partially naked, she says, she attempted to explain that she and her husband were at the same level of undress and that her bare chest was not inherently sexual.

Word of the incident made its way back to the biological mother of Buchanan's stepchildren. The mother then reported the incident to Utah's Division of Child and Family Services. Prosecutors say Buchanan stripped in front of her stepchildren under the influence of alcohol and threatened to remain naked unless she saw her husband's penis.

Buchanan is now charged with three misdemeanors for lewdness involving a child. Her husband, on the other hand, will not face any legal repercussions because Utah statute 76-9-702.5 defines lewdness involving a child as exposing "genitals, the female breast below the top of the areola, the buttocks, the anus, or the pubic area" in both public or private spaces "under circumstances the person should know will likely cause affront or alarm or with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of the actor or the child."

The Utah branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenged this statute, arguing that it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which clearly prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, but can also be read to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender. In this case, the ACLU argued that the law's inclusion of "the female breast below the top of the areola," but not its male counterpart, is gender-based discrimination.

On Sunday, Utah Third District Judge Kara Pettit rejected the argument. In her decision, Pettit argued that the law criminalized similar levels of nudity and merely itemized specific body parts "rooted in physical differences between the sexes." Because the itemization reflects the "contemporary community standards regarding nudity" and because the government has an interest in protecting children from lewd acts, Pettit dismissed Buchanan's Equal Protection argument.

"We're obviously disappointed that the motion was denied," ACLU attorney Leah Farrell says. "We'll likely appeal the decision."

Constitutionality aside, prosecutors could stand to exercise some discretion in Buchanan's case. They have not been able to verify even a detail as simple as the date of the incident. There is significant disagreement over the timeline of events, with separate recollections placing the incident in the fall of 2016, in late 2017, and in early 2018.

Meanwhile, the possibility that Buchanan will be added to the sex offender registry for what may be an honest misunderstanding highlights the problems with such a registry. The rules that designate sex offenders can be inconsistent or overzealously applied to people who clearly are not a threat to children. And those placed on these lists are often subjected to abuses from state and local governments

Advertisement

NEXT: Does an Impeachment Overturn an Election?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “rooted in physical differences between the sexes.”

    But there are no physical differences between the sexes.

    1. That Utah judge is about to get cancelled.

      1. The title had me at ‘topless stepmom’.

        Seriously, Google that and see what comes up.

        1. Speaking of Google, I did an image search on her.

          Would.

          1. Her photo should certainly be distributed, so that potential victims can avoid any new episodes; to her credit and possible mitigation of her crime, however, she did not engage in inappropriate “satire,” which would have been a far more serious matter deserving a somewhat longer period of incarceration. See the documentation of our nation’s leading criminal “parody” case at:

            https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

        2. I would recommend Bing for that particular search.

        3. I don’t need to look at Google to see what comes up, I can just look down.

    2. She should have insisted she was male at the time.

      1. I don’t think they go for that in Utah.

        1. I guess Utah hasn’t been drinking enough of the crazy-water yet.

    3. Well we do both have areolas.

  2. Why would anyone try to challenge this on equal protection grounds? Especially in a conservative area where the very existence of laws against the baring of female breasts existing shows that they don’t consider them equal.

    And

    she attempted to explain that she and her husband were at the same level of undress and that her bare chest was not inherently sexual.

    Well, no. You weren’t at the same level of undress and you know it. That’s why you don’t run around without a top on and wouldn’t let your daughter do so. It may not be inherently sexual – but that’s really dependent on the viewer.

    Still, its a bullshit charge, both because it happened in their own home and because this gets too far into the weeds as to what is and is not appropriate parenting. Secondly, even if I thought it was an appropriate charge, well, I’ll wait and see what the sentencing is, but if its more than a stern ‘now don’t do that again’ it will be too harsh of a sentence.

    1. Dude, you beat my by one minute!!!

      Well stated!!

    2. A light sentence doesn’t avoid her being placed on the pervert list.

      1. If there’s anything more than a stern shaking of the finger then she’s being punished too harshly. Even an acquittal won’t, technically, keep her off the list.

    3. Mad don’t most children spend the first year or two sucking on this things anyway? So they’re all seeing them multiple times a day anyhow.

      1. Are you implying that sex with any woman, including your birth mother is all the same?

    4. Still, its a bullshit charge, both because it happened in their own home and because this gets too far into the weeds as to what is and is not appropriate parenting.

      Also, bringing charges on behalf of a complaint on behalf of a witness means it’s easily possible you’ve put the first two parties priorities ahead of the last one who, themselves, is not the most reliable of witnesses.

    5. It may not be inherently sexual – but that’s really dependent on the viewer.

      I think men’s chests are sexy. Does that mean we can charge shirtless men at the beach under this law if I’m there?

      1. There’s a difference between sexy and sexual.

        1. Are you claiming her stepchildren are sexually interested in their stepmom? That’s kinda gross.

          1. Well sometimes the stepmom is younger than the stepkid and hot. 😉

        2. Like what?

    6. Well the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals believes in the Equal Protections portion of the Constitution, because they struck down a Fort Collins, CO law and ban on female topless nudity. And the 10th circuit encompasses Utah, meaning that they once again will rule that any law that differentiates and disparates between male and female is unconstitutional.

    7. Yeah, pretty much. I don’t think female toplessness (or any nudity by itself) should be a crime, but female breasts are different, at least in the society we live in (and especially in a place like Utah).
      I would add to your comment that families ought to have great discretion on what level of casual nudity is acceptable around their children. Of course, step-families and bitter exes complicate things.

      1. The Utah law doesn’t clearly state that female breasts are different, just that female nipples are treated differently: “the female breast below the top of the areola”. Men have areola, too, but it’s not a crime to free them.

        1. Right; because I guess “the people” are so bloody stupid today they forgot that only females have a mammary gland in their breast. Next think you know we won’t be able to distinguish the difference between a kite and a pigeon or a nuclear missile out of some sort of flying object equality claim.

        2. Here’s a thought would a trans women be subject to that stricture?

      2. Breasts usually are different, but sometimes the variation in the left and right is almost imperceptible.

    8. To preserve the argument for an appeal to SCOTUS.

  3. I completely agree that “equal protection” is a bogus argument in this case. It is just inherently stupid to argue that men’s and women’s chests are the same or have the same effect on others.
    Especially because the law specifically states to arouse or alarm or the intent to arouse or gratify sexually.So breast-feeding or similar would specifically be a valid defense.

    I admittedly don’t know the custody circumstances involved. However, it seems ridiculous on its face that a stepmother who bared her breasts to her husband has committed a crime, much less could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. Where does this stop? What if the stepmom and husband were fucking in their room, and the kids walked in on them? If the bio-mom just has it out for the stepmom, she could do the same thing in that case.

    Not only that, but the evidence certainly seems REAL thin anyway.

    1. The US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals believes that men’s and women’s chests are the same, and thus have the same protections.

      And in truth, both sexes chests ARE the same. Men and women both have breast tissue, and nipples.

      1. Ah, I see you’re one of those.

        1. Care to dispute the fact that biologically men and women’s breast are so inherently different? Women’s breast can make milk after reproduction, that’s the most inherent difference between the sexes, and we don’t by and large treat women differently for breastfeeding. Men have breast tissue, men have areolas, men have nipples. So would you like to explain how a mans’ and a womans’ breast are different? Being sexually aroused by a body part is not a legitimate reason for discrimination, and if it was then all women should need to wear closed toed shoes, long dresses or pants to cover their legs, and no longer allowed to show thighs or buttocks in a swimsuit because many men find women’s legs, thighs, and buttocks sexy and they get sexually aroused by them.

          1. Burkas. The only answer is burkas.

        2. Male breasts can be induced to lactate, and it doesn’t even require hormones.

      2. I guess the mammary gland got dismissed from existence.

        1. Mammary gland;
          noun
          Collegiate Definition: any of the large compound modified sebaceous glands that in female mammals are modified to secrete milk, are situated ventrally in pairs, and usually terminate in a nipple

          Yep, the gland is used for milk, which is produced from having a baby. Are you saying that because they have a gland INSIDE their breast tissue that that is a legitimate reason to prohibit women from showing their nipples? Under that logic, women should not be allowed to show any skin of their upper torso because they have an extra rib than men do. Or, do we ban women from publicly breastfeeding because of their extra gland? So I reiterate again, besides the milk making gland (which I already acknowledged in my original comment), what is the difference between men and women’s breasts? We’ll go with the EXTERIOR of the breasts for you then to make it simpler.

          1. Golly… Under that logic; Are you saying that just because I have testicles & penis glands INSIDE my pelvis tissue that that is a legitimate reason to prohibit me from letting my penis hang out of
            super-short shorts in public…

            It’s JUST [[extra]] upper pelvis tissue JUST like a females upper pelvis tissue right??? right??? right????

            Its the exact same EXTERIOR skin as a female pelvis so I guess we should just ban all women from wearing any shorts that might be shorter than the longest dong found I guess???

            What is the difference between a mans slong and a women’s vagina anyways short of INTERIOR glands.

            I can’t believe I even waste my time on such idiocy.

            1. “Its SEXIST that people are offended by my pelvic cleavage” — Screams the maninists!!! lol…..

            2. You’re right about one thing; I can’t believe you wasted your time typing out your asinine logic. A penis and a vagina ARE 100% different, both internally and externally. But the part that you seem to not understand is the fact that the law prohibits BOTH men and women from exposing their genitals in that instance, thus not discriminating between the sexes. (Same thing about not exposing ones butthole. Each sex has one, and each sex is prohibited from exposing it)

              I can’t believe I actually have to be the brains for both me, and you, on such an easy issue.

              1. You better believe you are the only one that has to be the sh#t-for-brains in this conversation between the two of us. Playing word games and calling it anything but stupidity is far below my level of intelligence.

                “Porno is just paper” – You’ll scream until my ears bleed knowing darn well you’re just playing word games and trying to confuse reality.

                I really don’t care if a community wants to be a nude beach. If I don’t like it then I’ll move. BUT — If your showing porno to my child and claiming “its just paper” (EXTERIOR) I as a parent should have some legal leeway in stopping that behavior if I cannot legally pull my child from that environment. This case should really be handled by the two parties (NOT the STATE) in a custody hearing and any reasonable judge would pull custody claim from a defiant offending party.

                1. “Porno is just paper” I never said anything about porn, but nice try on your wantingness to redirect the argument and to try to spin a different set of circumstances and perimeters to fit your view and narrative. But you already knew that pornos and a topless women’s breasts are different aspects.

                  “I as a parent should have some legal leeway in stopping that behavior if I cannot legally pull my child from that environment” FYI, just because YOU feel, want, or believe that you don’t want your children exposed to a certain “environment” does not give you the right or justification to prohibit or make illegal that “environment” or action.

                  “This case should really be handled by the two parties (NOT the STATE) in a custody hearing and any reasonable judge would pull custody claim from a defiant offending party.” So you are saying that a judge should make the determining factor and perimeters as to who has what rights in a case like this? Hahaha, that’s like saying that a man drinking alcohol in front of his children, and their mother hates alcohol, is wrong so a judge should rule that he no longer can have custody because he drinks in front of their children.

                  Come back when you have REAL debating points that are RELEVANT to the actual case in hand.

                  1. “a judge should make the determining factor and perimeters as to who has what rights in a case like this” —

                    Well who the H*LL do you think is suppose to resolve the parental conflict?? If a judge has created a split-parental rights situation for the child then the judge is responsible for handling ‘split-parental’ conflicts that result from such a contract.

                    I think you just like to hear yourself gripe at truth and reality as once again you’re going to claim the utter obvious that a woman running around half naked has nothing to do with porno…

                    Maybe you should lay off the liberal-crack pipe for a while as it seems to be causing some major brain malfunctions.

            3. You should see a doctor if your testicles are inside your pelvis.

    2. The case the prosecutor want’s to press seems quite ridiculous. How could the possibly prove the more salacious details? Particularly if it happened at least a few years ago and the children are the only potential witnesses.

  4. DON’T TALK TO COPS. If the Buchanans had kept their mouths shut instead of trying to explain themselves, the state would not have had a case.

  5. Would the male be in trouble if he had “moobs”?
    If not, then women are indeed not being treated equally.

    1. This is why you will never find Senator Schumer in Utah.

  6. Fun fact, we’re not chimps. Human female breasts are always inflated even when not breast feeding in order to show off fertility to potential mates.

    So yes, this is one of those inherent differences between the sexes things. A woman’s breast is just as sexual as the anus and a man’s isn’t.

    1. Considering that anuses aren’t sexual, I don’t think your argument proved much. (Yes, I know that some people use anuses in a sexual manner. And some people use mouths the same way. That doesn’t make mouths sexual organs.)

      1. But the law in this case does. The step mom is arguing equal protection, not that things which aren’t used solely for sexual purposes should not be considered inappropriate to flash to other people’s children. Being as there is an actual physical difference in purpose between her breasts and the breasts of her husbands, it is not a case for equal protection.

        1. Hey, look at the woman hater here^.

    2. Human female breast sizes range from imperceptible to watermelon-sized. Some topless women look like prepubescent girls. Do they excite you as well? And what’s this about anuses? Are you saying men’s anuses aren’t sexual but women’s are?

      1. Honey, I didn’t invent evolution. You’ll have to take it up with all those dirty dirty scientist who bothered to study why human breasts aren’t as flat as our monkey cousins.

        I used the anus because that was one of the other areas mentioned as illegal to flash at kids by the law. The woman in this case decided to cede that parts of the body that are not meant solely for sex should be considered lewd under the law, so the only question left is if there is a substantial difference between what she has and what her husband has. Biology and evolution say yes, so equal protection doesn’t apply here.

        1. Everyone knows the human body is disgusting.

          1. Honestly, most human bodies much past 25 are not a pretty sight. That’s part of the reason I’ve never understood nudism.

  7. “On Sunday, Utah Third District Judge Kara Pettit rejected the argument. ”

    ON SUNDAY???

    Moroni would not approve.

  8. Two things here.

    This is a battle between a divorced couple which can be incredibly petty and vicious if they are not on good terms. So something that never should have been in front of the law is dragged into public.

    The ACLU was trying to use this to establish a precedent in their radical quest for a legal standard of androgyny, pretending there are no physiological differences between Male and females by court fiat. This must be opposed.

    1. >>This is a battle between a divorced couple

      right. she needs to gtfo before she’s on Investigation Discovery she’s involved w/unstable people

    2. Of course there are physiological differences between males and females. One is an outie and the other is an innie.

  9. So every woman in Utah who ever breast-fed a child is a felon?

    1. Just the ones who breast-fed their stepchildren.

      1. Wet nurses are all sex offenders.

  10. Topless Stepmom

    Nice band name.

  11. Coppertop bar

  12. I’m confused why wasn’t this case tossed out as hearsay?

    If this were some sort of custody battle, I might get it. But the fact that biological Mom isn’t with the kids speaks volumes about her willingness to pick up any axe she can find and grind it to her heart’s content.

    1. It isn’t hearsay if the accused admits it. Also, the kids could serve as actual witnesses so we are already past hearsay-only evidence.

      From what I can tell, the judge rejected dismissing the case on a constitutional argument, which is the right call. The actual case (along with any other motions to dismiss) hasn’t gone through yet.

      This seems a bizarre point to stick a ‘free range kids’ or ‘libertarian’ argument on. A better one would be that nudity alone within one’s own home is not sufficient grounds for a child welfare investigation.

  13. leave the state middle fingers held high.

  14. The judge thinks women’s breast are lewd. Sick woman.
    Where are all the breastfeeding in public women picketing? You would think they would be giving this woman a lot of support.

    1. We haven’t seen her boobs yet, it’s possible she doesn’t need support.

  15. Men seem to find tits pretty…well…titillating so this isn’t so surprising.

    Maybe we should blame society for making tits an object of sexual desire, but good luck changing that. Men are so into tits they’re getting their own installed, so I think you’ll have an uphill climb.

    I’m also not so sure that even under their own statute that she’ll be found guilty.


    …under circumstances the person should know will likely cause affront or alarm or with the intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of the actor or the child.

    I don’t see how accidental exposure meets that criteria, even though it’s pretty subjective. Either we don’t have the full story, or the court is somehow under the impression the step-mother did it on purpose for sexual reasons.

    I wonder if when the step-mother was explaining that it wasn’t sexual if the kids were listening to what she was saying or if they were staring, though.


    Prosecutors say Buchanan stripped in front of her stepchildren under the influence of alcohol and threatened to remain naked unless she saw her husband’s penis.

    If that’s true, and we probably won’t know if it is, then that’s a different matter right? Isn’t this something we’d normally think is a good thing to investigate? Say it’s a step-father and a step-daughter in the same scenario and ask yourself if you’d be concerned.

    Of course, the ‘allegation’ coming from an ex-wife is not the best of witnesses. Especially when she didn’t witness anything at all. CPS seems like it’s prone to this type of abuse in a divorce-happy society.

    In short, it looks like there’s no shortage of asshole nanny types in this story but there could be a serious allegation under it all. I really doubt it, though.

    1. Isn’t this something we’d normally think is a good thing to investigate?
      Depends on where the accusation comes from. Did the kids claim this directly? Or is it just the mom. And how old are the kids? it’s not really clear. Unless there is some solid evidence, I don’t think a mere accusation warrants the invasion of a family’s private business.
      And breasts stimulate sexual desire even with clothes over them. So why such a strong line at nipples?

  16. Ok so kiddos walked in on mom and dad playing around. Every kids nightmare kinda but not a big deal. Happens all the time.

    Worse is when mom walks in on kiddo having a go at it when they think no one is watching. Followed by the talk about private time.

  17. Never understood the big taboo about nudity myself. In some cultures it is no big deal. In japan for example children often bathe with parents until high school age.

    1. So if you had a daughter, you’d be okay with your neighbor, Harry the Creeper flashing her? Obviously that’s a really far example, but it holds up under your suggestion. Point being everyone has a line in there some place, including you. And if you don’t, then you just might be that creepy neighbor everyone should worry about. There’s also a time and place. All societies have rules and even so-called anarchists have a limit, at least when it comes to themselves and their own.

      1. Not being OK with something and believing that it deserves imprisonment, fines, or ostracism is two different things. That distinction is foundational to libertarianism.

  18. If people really believe that this woman is a threat to children and that her life should be a living hell for the next ten years on the registry for some drunken goofiness, I don’t really know if we can help society anymore,

  19. I’ll just ask y’all a question. Where do you think parents had sex in era where most families all slept in the same room? Particularly in the dead of winter?

    Yeah, this idea of shielding children from the existence of sex wasn’t even possible until the rising prosperity of the Victorian Era, and there’s no evidence that it’s necessary or beneficial to children’s mental health.

    Even if the prosecution’s story is true, the whole case is a ludicrous example of irrationality over a baseless taboo.

    1. Little Johnny’s parents asked him what he wanted for his birthday.

      “I want a watch,” said little Johnny.

      So they let him watch.

      1. (You can tell that little Johnny is weird because what kind of kid wants a watch nowadays?)

        1. Apple fanboys.

      2. For that joke to work in writing, you need to type it, “I wanna watch.”

    2. This is a mother who did NOT strip off her top in front of her children, but who instead had her top off when her children barged in. If not for the bizarro natural mom and the batshit insane prosecutors, this would be a total non-story.

      When I grew up I knew of a nudist family. Everyone in the nude. Because they were nudists. Lots of giggles and stories over it, but no one ever got arrested, because being naked in your own home is not a crime in any of the other 49 states.

  20. “rooted in physical differences between the sexes.”

    That poor clinger judge and her clinger superstitions. The forces of progress will soon overtake her.

    (In case the judge is checking the Internet for critics, let me add that the above is sarcasm, based on satire of another poster’s style.)

    1. My guess is the stepmom had a nicer pair than the judge, the judge was jealous!

  21. Somewhat relevant –

    I’m not calling anyone old, but “Missy” (Bill’s stepmom) from Bill and Ted is now 61.

    1. Umm being in the same age group she is still in the yup definitely category. The frame of reference adjusts by itself as you get a bit older. For this we should really be thankful.

      1. Wishful thinking.

  22. So… Under all the smoke — The biological Mother wants exposure-control ‘ownership’ status of her children while they are actually treading in stepmoms ‘ownership’ property.

    Otherwise the natural mother would have easily just kicked naked stepmom out the door and that would’ve been the end of that story.

    Oh wait; never-mind… Those are ‘State’ owned children of course. They have been ever since our government officials decided they owned ALL of us. Of course if they ‘own’ ALL of us the term Individual private property means absolutely nothing.

  23. All because of a bitter ex wife

  24. Utah is a state populated by religiously very conservative people. This Judge probably will be overturned but he might still have an election to contend with.

    This was all about a divorced angry woman trying to cause trouble with her spouses new wife. If the woman was on fire (which insulation fibers can feel like) was she supposed to go to her bedroom and lock the door before getting the contaminated clothing off. They were in their own home for God’s sake. Really this judge deserves to be removed.

    1. Well no…. it’s not the same as being on fire and nobody was dying. And I’ve handled much fiberglass. It is a slow progression of irritation, and they made it into the main body of the house before disrobing, so probably not the emergency you suggest.

      At the end, very little is known and the details haven’t been published because there’s been no trial. How old were the kids? Reasonable care must be taken with children, and that varies by age. 3-4 yr old kids, no big deal. All we know is that they are “underage”, which could be 16-17 year old boys. We don’t know.

      Still, things happen, but there are also good and bad ways to handle awkward family situations. If you have a couple of teenage boys, you cover up, excuse yourself, apologize for the embarrassment or have them leave the room for a few minutes. That is kind of the opposite of continuing to stand there half naked, laugh it off, and keeping the discomforting embarrassment going.

      Also, if she was refusing to get dressed again, half drunk, and flaunting it as it has been suggested, then yes, there is a problem. Is there a history here for context? There are not enough facts in this story to do anything more than push a few reader’s buttons. Maybe you are right and it’s just an ex-wife thing. But just because someone is an ex doesn’t mean they can’t have valid concerns or opinions about what the children are exposed to.

      Unfortunately, Reason has started going down this road of salacious one-sided writing, and often without many facts. True “reason” requires an honest discussion of all facts and perspectives, and yet virtually every article is written with a rather obvious agenda in mind.

      1. Even in your worst-case scenario, imprisoning or fining this woman or putting her on the sex offender list would be grossly unjust. This was a private matter that the justice system should have stayed out of.

  25. I’m not sure what exactly this Judge’s decision says, but if you take what is said here at face value, i.e. something being sexual because it’s a difference between the genders why would a woman’s breast be sexual while a man’s chest isn’t? They both highlight a difference between the genders. For that matter, why isn’t a beard sexual then? Woman can’t grow them, and they are only found on males who have exited puberty. Better cover up your faces, gentlemen.

    Aside from that, how is this any different than if the stepmom is showering and the stepchild sees her in a state of undress because they walk into a bathroom she forgot to lock? I mean this is in your own house with people you live with. It’s not like she’s there diddling herself and forcing the kids to watch. Ridiculous.

  26. Why didn’t they just go in the bathroom and change preserving their modesty like I would have done when my daughters were living at home?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.