Hawaii introduces legislation to change indecent exposure laws
Highlighting a focus on minors, Hawaii’s actions hint at an emerging trend in public nudity laws
On January 18th, 2024, Hawaii introduced legislation concerning indecent exposure, with bills presented in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Led by Democrat Scott Saiki, HB 1873 and SB 2251 aim to adjust the state’s approach to indecent exposure laws, with a focus on enhancing protections for minors. This move aligns with a broader trend seen in states like Wisconsin, where legislation often emphasizes “protecting the children” from exposure to nudity.
The heart of the legislation and its implications
At the core of HB 1873 and SB 2251, the House and Senate versions of the same bill, is the goal to modify indecent exposure laws, focusing on protecting minors. This bill aims to escalate the criminal penalty from a petty misdemeanor to a misdemeanor for incidents involving victims under sixteen years of age, introducing a strict liability for the offender regardless of their knowledge of the victim’s age. This ensures accountability for those exposing minors to such acts, moving towards greater protection for minors.
The legislation amends statute 707-734 to enforce harsher penalties for indecent exposure to minors, shifting from a maximum of 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine to potentially a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. This change reflects a deliberate effort to differentiate between malicious indecent exposure and non-sexual nudity, addressing public concerns while considering the implications for the nudist community. However, the community has reason to be cautious, recognizing the potential for broad misinterpretations of the law that could affect those practicing non-obscene nudity.
Comparing the legislative language between Hawaii’s recent bills and Wisconsin’s anti-nudity bills—SB 477 and 478 / AB 503 and 504—sheds light on the nuanced approaches states are taking towards public nudity and its exposure to minors. Wisconsin’s legislation, which has raised concerns for its expansive reach, moves to an “intentional” standard, potentially criminalizing any form of intentional nudity, regardless of the intent to offend. This contrasts with Hawaii's legislation, introduced by Democrat Scott Saiki, which maintains an indecency standard, indicating a targeted approach towards actions intended to offend, especially around minors.
In Wisconsin, anti-nudity legislation has unfolded along strict party lines, with Republicans driving the bills forward and Democrats largely resisting them. This clear partisan pattern stands in contrast to the political nuances in Hawaii. There, the Democratic Party’s stronghold necessitates candidates’ affiliation with the party for electoral viability. “As a result, Hawaii’s congressional politics are typically dominated by Democrats since statehood in 1959.”1 Within this context, legislative actions undertaken by Democrat Scott Saiki, such as the introduction of bills related to nudity and exposure, underscore the presence of conservative-leaning initiatives within Hawaii’s predominantly Democratic legislative body. This situation reflects the complex political fabric of Hawaii, where the range of ideologies within the Democratic Party can give rise to legislative proposals that might, in other contexts, align more with conservative values.
Bill Schroer is a longtime naturist activist and advocate, and chair of the Naturist Action Committee. “The Wisconsin initiative is indicative of the new conservative strategy of outlawing behavior because of concern for ‘the children,’” Schroer told Planet Nude. “That was the lever used to push the Wisconsin bills forward, and this [Hawaii] legislation similarly hinges on behavior affecting children. From there...it’s not too much of a stretch to consider the behavior unlawful no matter who is exposed. It is, unfortunately, a strategy that will work…as who will go on record as being opposed to something that protects ‘the children’?” Schroer’s observation highlights the strategic use of child protection as a rationale for broader legislation against nudity, a tactic that resonates in both Wisconsin’s and Hawaii’s legislative efforts.
While Hawaii’s bills aim to safeguard minors from indecent exposure by maintaining an indecency standard, the emphasis on “protecting children” mirrors broader, conservative strategies that have been observed nationwide. This tactic, invoking the “think of the children” rhetoric, is often criticized as a disingenuous appeal to moral panic, serving more as a tool for political maneuvering than a genuine concern for youth welfare. Such an approach, evident in the legislation of both states, highlights how culture war politics exploit concerns for public decency to advance specific agendas, often at the expense of the fundamental values of body freedom and individual rights. From our analysis, the deployment of child protection as a legislative guise doesn’t seem likely to abate in Wisconsin or Hawaii. Look for more legislation of this sort being introduced elsewhere in the coming months and years.
Advocacy and engagement
As Hawaii navigates these legislative changes, the importance of active and informed participation in the democratic process by the nudist community cannot be overstated. Advocating for laws that accurately reflect the distinction between public indecency and the expression of body freedom is crucial. This moment serves as a critical opportunity for the nudist community to influence a legal landscape that respects and honors the rights of individuals to engage with the world in their most natural state.
In conclusion, while Hawaii’s new legislative efforts offer hope for laws that understand the nuances of nudity and public decency, the broader implications of these bills underscore a critical moment for advocacy and engagement. The nudist community’s role in shaping a balanced approach to nudity and public decency becomes ever more vital as the dialogue around these issues continues to evolve. 🪐