As Florida lawmakers prepare a package of legislation cracking down on sexual offenders and predators, some say at least one of the bills could do more harm than good. An indecent exposure bill aiming to get more sex offenders off the street is drawing concern from Florida naturists also known as nudists.
Indecent Exposure Bill
Generally speaking, law enforcement officers must witness a misdemeanor offense to make an arrest without a warrant. Of course, there are some exceptions, like domestic violence or child abuse cases. But, Boca Raton Republican Representative Bill Hager says there’s another instance where law enforcement should be allowed to make an arrest without probable cause.
“The experience that prompted me to consider this: in Boca Raton, in a Barnes and Nobles Bookstore, a serial public masturbator with nine prior convictions masturbated in the children’s section of the store, was tackled by store customers who sat on him until the police arrived,” said Hager.
But, when the police arrived, Hager says they quickly apologized because they couldn’t arrest him, even though a child had witnessed the act.
“They weren’t being mid-level bureaucrats—they said ‘we’re sorry, we cannot arrest this individual because it’s a misdemeanor and we have not observed it.’ The citizens who had tackled this individual were dumbfounded, as you can imagine, and the child was ambiguous as to what the child had observed. A warrant was issued, but by the time the arrest was made, this individual had already been arrested for a subsequent violation,” Hager added.
Hager says law enforcement should not have to wait before a sex offender commits another crime, like exposing their private parts in a book store. So, his bill would allow officers to arrest without a warrant if the officer has probable cause. The legislation also increases the penalties for those who continue to commit such crimes.
Naturally FSU Concerned By Bill
But, a certain group of people say they’re not too happy about the bill. It’s a group calling themselves Naturally FSU, a student-run organization located on Florida State University’s campus.
"It's an organization dedicated to promoting the naturist and nudist lifestyles and giving students the opportunity to explore that a little and see if that’s something that they’re interested in,” said the group's President Nancy Moyers.
That was the case for juniors Bianca Craig and Mark Shipley, now both officers of the group. They recount how both met each other at one of the group’s premiere events, called “Full Moon Skinny Dips.”
“I’d seen fliers for the skinny dips, and I decided to go to this fall, and I went, and I had a wonderful time. It was kind of awkward at first, because you’re like ,’OMG, everyone’s naked!’ Then, after like an hour, it’s like ‘oh, everyone’s naked’… It was fun, I felt safe," said Craig.
"So, what actually happened was she was standing by the campfire that we had out there, and she and I both had the same interest in anime and pop culture. So, we just had a good time talking about that for most of the evening,” continued Shipley.
They say there’s nothing sexual about the nudist lifestyle. And, Moyers says she sees it misinterpreted all the time.
“As it is, indecent exposure is very unclear. There’s a lot of cases where nudists will get arrested for it, and then once it gets to a judge, the case is thrown out because it’s not indecent exposure, if it’s in a place that’s clothing optional. But, if this new law will come through, it will be easier for nudists to be arrested for that, even if they’re not violating any laws,” said Moyers.
Group members say they understand the intent of the bill. But, Shipley says it’s too broad and he’s worried police won’t just catch Hager’s example of book store-type offenders.
“We do support protecting children’s from such individuals. We definitely don’t support that behavior in any way. However, this bill will not even address them. It will be a catch-all. It might get some of them, but it’s not going to go to any great lengths to solve the problem that is being presented. So, it’s going to harass innocent people, like someone sitting in their own home who is accidentally visible to their neighbors or someone who is trying to skinny dip, and again, be left alone, and it’s not going to catch the bad guys,” said Shipley.
Still, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers support the bill, including Lake Mary Democratic Representative Mike Clelland, who takes issue with the nudists’ concerns.
“It’s almost insulting to the Sheriffs who are on the ground and the police officers who are on the ground because it presupposes that they don’t know the difference between someone who’s innocently partaking in their nudist activity as opposed to someone as used in the examples by the Representative,” said Clelland.
The bill has passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, and members of Naturally FSU says their group and similar organizations across the state intend to work with Hager to make sure their concerns are addressed before its next hearing.
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