Constitutional Law

Something unusual occurred when Holly Van Voast took off her shirt this spring: She wasn't arrested

It’s been over 20 years since the top New York appeals court ruled that women, like men, may take off their shirts in public without risking criminal charges for doing so, as long as it’s for noncommercial purposes.

However, at least until recently, it appears that not everyone had gotten that memo, including a number of New York City police officers, the New York Times (reg. req.) reports.

Earlier this year, the police department issued a directive to officers that has been read at numerous roll calls saying that women are not to be arrested simply for baring their breasts.

Meanwhile, a Bronx photographer and performance artist filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday over what she describes as 10 incidents in 2011 and 2012 in which she was arrested or detained for baring her breasts. The last, Holly Van Voast alleged, resulted in her being sent for a psychiatric evaluation, the newspaper recounts.

However, something unusual happened recently when Van Voast took off her shirt as the weather warmed: She didn’t get arrested, one of her lawyers, Ronald L. Kuby, tells the newspaper.

“I was aware that they stopped telling her to put a shirt on, stopped arresting her, stopped carting her off to mental institutions,” he said. But, until informed by the Times of the recent police directive, “I was not aware why.”

The article says all the criminal charges brought against Van Voast for taking off her top were dismissed or dropped because of the 1992 ruling by the New York Court of Appeals.

It is People v. Ramona Santorelli and Mary Lou Schloss, notes a Daily Beast article on efforts by Van Voast and others to eliminate public ignorance of the New York law concerning bare female chests.

See also “Woman Charged with Taking Off Her Clothes in Public Demonstrates Her Technique in Court”

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