I feel bad for Kate Middleton, I truly do, and there's no way to say this without sounding like I'm blaming the victim instead of her security patrol. But it should go without saying that if you're the Duchess of Cambridge and hounded endlessly by paparazzi, then baring your breasts outdoors isn't a good idea, even in the name of tanning.

By now the world knows that she and hubby Prince William were vacationing on a secluded villa in France recently when paparazzi snapped photos of her sunbathing topless. Those photos were splashed across a French magazine and the Internet, an Irish newspaper and now, an Italian magazine.

The duke and duchess, lounging on a balcony of the 640-acre, wooded estate, assumed they were far from the reach of the despicable photographers who prey on the rich and famous for a global audience all too eager to buy what they're selling without regard to sexual exploitation.

After the first round of naked photos surfaced, an on-air personality at a Twin Cities radio station declared, "She looks good." Groan. Where was the outcry about the lack of human decency at play or the degrading treatment of the duchess as a tawdry sex object, not to mention a little compassion for the humiliation she must be feeling?

The couple's office in London quickly condemned the photos as a "grotesque" invasion of privacy and promised legal action. It likened the incident to another painful chapter of Prince William's life -- the death of his mother, Diana, in 1997, in a car crash in France that happened while she was being pursued by the ever-loathsome paparazzi.

Kate and William may be naïve innocents here, but there's no excuse for their security. In an era in which the appetite for titillating celebrity photos seems insatiable, privacy cannot be assumed when it comes to nude sunbathing, especially for a royal couple. You step out on a balcony naked, and some lurid soul will find a way to capture the moment. Then sleazy tabloids and magazine editors will publish the photos and act as if they were doing something noble -- like celebrating the beauty of the human body -- instead of raking in oodles of money from the unscrupulousness.

Cameras have been catching a lot of naked moments of the royals lately. Earlier this month, a kilted 91-year-old Prince Philip accidentally flashed his privates when he sat with his legs apart at an event in Scotland that he attended with Queen Elizabeth. Note to security: Never let royals out of the palace without their underpants. Do we really need to tell you this?

That, too, was an innocent moment. Not so innocent: Prince Harry stripping naked with strangers in a Vegas hotel with cameras rolling and his security apparently asleep on the job. Many Brits laughed off Harry's nudity as the winsome ways of a mischievous prince. But you can bet your bloomers that if Harry were female, the same Brits would be wildly denouncing "Princess Harriet" as a royal trollop.

Which brings us to Sarah Ferguson. The last thing Kate Middleton needed was for Fergie to come to her defense, but discretion has never been the Duchess of York's strength. She publicly called the topless Kate photos a "devastating invasion," and relived the shame she felt when she was captured bare-breasted while sunbathing 20 years ago, also in France. The difference was that Sarah was with a man who wasn't her then-husband, from whom she'd only recently split.

I hope Kate and William win their legal battle, because they certainly didn't deserve or ask for what happened. But British royals must also hire security more proactive in protecting them from the seamy side of the digital age, in which embarrassing moments can be splashed across the Internet in an instant. "Clothing optional" should never be an option when stepping outdoors or with strangers. And keep away from the French.


Susan Hogan is a Star Tribune editorial writer. Follow her on Twitter @StribSusan.