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Is Indecent Exposure a Form of Sexual Abuse?

On the surface, indecent exposure might not seem like that big of a deal to face in court when compared to other kinds of sex crimes. Most people know that indecent exposure is not something they want on their permanent record, but they may figure they will face no more than community service or a manageable fine.

However, that is not the case! If you are convicted of indecent exposure, it is a misdemeanor sex crimes charge that carries a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

What’s more, the standards for indecent exposure are surprisingly low in Michigan. Most people would agree that a person who intentionally exposes themselves to someone else as a form of sexual harassment deserves to face serious charges; but what about someone who is swimming naked in a lake and thought they were alone?

Under the law, both are considered to be forms of indecent exposure. Since this is a serious charge, an accusation means that you need to make sure you have the right sex crimes defense lawyer on your side.

Is Indecent Exposure a Form of Sexual Abuse?

Close-up photo of man covering himself with summer hat

Even though it might not seem as serious as other forms of sexual violence to the average person, indecent exposure is a form of sexual abuse and sexual violence. Under the state of Michigan’s definition, any unwanted sexual conduct is considered a form of sexual abuse. So, sexual abuse does not always involve physical contact.

You might think that sexual abuse and sexual assault can be used interchangeably, but the terms are quite different. Usually, but not always, sexual abuse includes crimes against minors or crimes involving one person in power over another. However, the more accurate description is that sexual abuse involves a long-term criminal action against a victim, while sexual assault happens quickly without much buildup before the unwanted action occurs.

Most crimes against minors happen over a longer period of time because minors often know their accusers and are repeatedly forced to endure the same traumatic experiences multiple times. This is why crimes against minors are considered to be sexual abuse. Conversely, an example of having sexually assaulted someone often includes the accused engaging in the illegal action once without any prior relationship.

By these definitions, indecent exposure can be considered either sexual abuse or sexual assault, depending on the circumstances. It can be as simple as making a minor watch a family member disrobe in a private setting, or it can be someone swimming in a lake thinking they are all alone, as mentioned above. The state of Michigan, like most states, is particularly tough on those convicted of sexual offenses, especially those related to child abuse, which means a strong criminal sexual conduct defense is an absolute necessity.

Can You Accidentally Commit Indecent Exposure?

There are some acts that people do not believe to taken in a sexual nature until they find themselves talking to local law enforcement about the action they just committed (learn what happens if you don’t talk to a detective here). For instance, if you are unable to find a restroom and choose to relieve yourself in the woods at a public park, you can face indecent exposure charges for sexual violence if someone happened to see you expose yourself to urinate.

Under the law, as long as you are in an area where it is reasonable to expect that someone could see you while exposing ones self, such as when urinating in public, you could face charges for sexual violence. No person even has to be present in order to charge you with indecent exposure. As long as you are in a place where someone reasonably could have seen, you could face serious criminal charges.

That said, the law does say that you have to knowingly commit public lewdness or other acts of sexual indecency to be charged with indecent exposure. If you happen to be intoxicated and unaware of your actions, you might face other charges under the law, but a CSC defense attorney who specializes in sexual offenses can protect you from being charged with sexual assault in that situation.

What is Considered Sexual Assault in Terms of Indecent Exposure?

When the average person hears that someone has sexually assaulted someone else, they tend to think of unwanted sexual penetration. However, many other acts fall under the umbrella of sex crimes and are considered either sexual abuse or sexual assault, even if no physical contact or sexual intercourse took place.

For example, if a boss took one of their employees into their office and began touching their genitals while forcing the employee to watch, that would fall under sexual assault. In that situation, the boss might think they have not done anything illegal because there were no acts of unwanted touching of the other person (see: what is offensive touching), but the law says that their employee has experienced sexual harassment. Forcing another person to watch you touch yourself in a sexual matter is a very serious matter and will be prosecuted with credible evidence.

Sexual harrassment

Many examples of indecent assault do start with indecent exposure, and it is important to remember that the absence of aNois not enough to establish consent. The easiest way to avoid facing criminal charges for sexual activity is to only proceed with a definite “Yes” on the part of the other person and make sure that you only continue with sexual acts once you are in a location with a reasonable expectation of privacy.

If either of these do not describe your situation, you are much better off choosing to stop before you face serious accusations of sexual assault, indecent exposure, aggravated indecent exposure, or other sex crimes.

Even though proof might be harder to find in the case of indecent exposure because there is usually no evidence of bodily injury, prosecutors can and will establish strong cases based on the verbal and physical evidence they have through witnesses, recordings and more. You need to be prepared to do the same with your sexual assault defense strategies.

Not All Indecent Exposure Falls Under Sex Crimes

If you are worried about facing indecent exposure charges for any kind of example of another person seeing your private parts in your daily life, you should know that there are both exceptions that are permitted under the law and instances where someone else can see your genitals without you being guilty of sex crimes. If you had a reasonable expectation of privacy, for example, there would be no penalty under the law.

Let’s say that you are in the shower; your nephew wanders into the bathroom and opens the shower curtain, seeing your genitals in the process. Even though that might be a traumatic event for a family member, you would face no charges in that scenario because the exposure was unintentional and you were not in a public location.

If the exposure was consensual and the other party was above the age of consent, you also would not be guilty of indecent exposure. However, even when you and another party have consented, you should still be careful if you are outside your own home.

The entertainment industry is full of examples on both the big and small screen of people in intimate relationships who got the urge to have sexual relations in the office, or other public areas. In the real world, however, if another person happens to view such an action, both you and your partner could face charges for indecent exposure.

Beautiful sexy image of young couple in wet clothes laying on the beach kissing.

You might be wondering how a locker room might be treated, given that stories of sexual assault in these kinds of locations seem to pop up every couple years. In that situation, the action of merely seeing another’s genitals in the locker room would not constitute indecent exposure, as it is expected that people will be naked there.

Where a person would face charges for sexual assault or other sex crimes would be if they attempted to force or coerce someone into a specific sexual act, such as physical contact in the shower or intentionally exposing themselves to another with no attempt to cover their genitals.

Breastfeeding is Always Exempt from Charges

There is also one form of exposure that is recurring, intentional, and completely legal under the law, and that is breastfeeding. Under the law, a woman who exposes her breast for the purpose of feeding a child is completely exempt from any charges for indecent exposure, regardless of whether or not the areola is obscured.

Even if another person might be uncomfortable watching a woman breastfeed her child, the law is completely clear in Michigan that a breastfeeding mother cannot face indecent exposure charges for that action.

Portrait of woman nursing baby girl outdoors in backyard.

What Other Questionable Actions Do Not Qualify as Indecent Exposure?

According to Michigan law, indecent exposure does not have to be witnessed by another person for them to face sexual assault charges, but the action does have to take place in-person. You might think that sending explicit text messages or sending pictures through dating apps is a criminal offense, but Michigan has no specific law against sending sexual messages unless one party is under age 18 (see: when is sexting illegal).

In such a situation, there would be no crime for indecent exposure, but the sender could face other sexual crimes under the law. If neither party is under the age of 18, the person could face sexual harassment charges for sending explicit images, but these would not fall under indecent exposure.

A similar situation arises if one person is under the age of 18. The person in question could be charged with child pornography, but would not face a charge for exposure unless the images happened in-person.

In either case, however, you would be facing a serious sex crimes charge, which means hiring the right criminal sexual conduct attorney is a must.

What are the Penalties for an Indecent Exposure Conviction?

Per section 750.335a of the Michigan Penal Code, the most basic charge of indecent exposure includes penalties of up to a $1,000 fine, up to one year in jail, or both. However, if you have engaged in more serious forms of sexual abuse, the penalties can be far different and far greater.

The basic charge only applies if this is a one-time instance and you have engaged in a simple form of exposure, such as showing another person your genitals in public. Repeated forms of exposure, however, constitute more serious forms of sexual violence that carry stiffer penalties.

Strange naked man with children's buoy at the swimming pool

Let’s revisit the example of the boss pulling someone away from their co-workers and into their office, then forcing them to watch as the boss sexually gratifies themselves. In that situation, the boss would face a fine of up to $2,000 and up to two years in prison for fondling their private areas in the presence of another person, i.e. aggravated indecent exposure.

If you have a history of sexual violence against others, the penalties get far stiffer. A person deemed a sexual delinquent will have charges upgraded to a felony and have to register as either a Tier 1 or Tier 2 sex offender, if they weren’t already on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry. Even if you get your time of registering as a sex offender reduced, the stigma never goes away and the past can always haunt you when you face background checks.

Any conviction for sexual abuse or sexual assault can get you considered a sexual delinquent person in Michigan, which means getting the right criminal defense lawyer is crucial when facing charges for unwanted sexual activity.

What Defenses Exist Against Sexual Abuse or Sexual Assault Charges for Indecent Exposure?

If you are facing charges for sexual abuse or sexual assault related to indecent exposure, your case is not hopeless. There are several genuine strategies that you can use to either protect your freedom or argue your sentence down to a lesser charge with the right criminal defense attorney on the case. Learn what to look for in a criminal defense lawyer here.

Considering that crimes of sexual assault usually come with registration as a sex offender, as well as other stiff penalties, it is important to have an experienced attorney who knows when to offer one of the following defenses:

The Exposure was Unintentional

Let’s say that it is a blustery day and you happen to have your jacket pop open in front of someone, exposing your breasts because you forgot to wear anything underneath it that morning. In that case, you could successfully argue that the exposure was not intentional, and that you covered up as soon as you were able to do so.

Or maybe you lost a button on your pants and you were trying to get back to your vehicle before anyone spots what had happened. Unfortunately, you do not cover up in time and you accidentally expose yourself to a family. Again, you could argue that you had no desire to expose yourself and you tried to promptly correct the situation. In that scenario, a judge is likely to agree with you and pass judgment in your favor.

You Suffer from Mental Issues

Psychological problems are a real thing, and the law recognizes that people might not always be in their right mind when they make lapses in judgment. While the law still treats instances of sexual abuse and sexual assault as serious when committed by an individual with psychological problems, the punishment in these cases is often treatment and not incarceration.

If you have a medical diagnosis and express a willingness to seek professional help, a judge is much more likely to be sympathetic and order you to undergo psychological sessions rather than jail time.

You Were Deeply Intoxicated

Again, being intoxicated can bring its own problems under the law, but the charges for indecent exposure that stem from intoxication often come with a lesser sentence. Public drunkenness on its own is not a crime in Michigan; you only face problems with the law when intoxication causes you to disturb others (learn how to beat a disorderly conduct charge here).

Obviously, indecent exposure would fall under this umbrella, but the penalties for a crime caused by intoxication usually carry a lesser charge of up to 90 days in jail and up to a $500 fine.

What Should You Do When Facing Indecent Exposure Charges?

If you are thinking that indecent exposure is not really a form of sexual violence and will go away on its own, you will find out quickly that is not the case.

The best thing you can do when facing charges of indecent assault is to contact Attorney Nicole Blank Becker and explain everything about the case to her.

Nicole has spent her career on both sides of the aisle, being a prosecutor for the better part of two decades, and understands both how prosecutors argue cases related to sex crimes and how she can attack their accusations against her client. She believes that everyone deserves a strong defense and never judges her clients. You can completely trust Nicole to strictly follow the practices of attorney-client privilege and provide you with her best defense against any accusation.

If you are dealing with a charge of indecent exposure, you should know that being accused of sexual abuse or sexual assault does not mean that your case cannot be defended in court. There are several stories of people falsely accused of a criminal offense that result in the defendant preserving their freedom in a court of law. Having the right attorney makes it far more likely that you can avoid criminal charges for such actions.

Nicole Calling Card

If you are facing an accusation or charge of indecent exposure, you need to call Attorney Nicole Blank Becker at (248) 515-6583 or reach out to her online to schedule your Michigan criminal defense attorney free consultation.

Do not waste time in preparing for your case; contact her today to discuss the facts and start planning a strategy!

3150 Livernois Rd. Suite 126
Troy, MI 48083
(248) 515-6583
law@nicoleblankbecker.com

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