Take down the fetish photos.
That was the judge’s ruling Monday in the case of a former University of Miami medical student accused of uploading hundreds of photos of classmates, professors and staffers to foot-fetish and other pornographic websites.
The judge also issued a permanent restraining order against Alex Zhang, 25, barring him from ever contacting two female victims whose social-media photos were swiped and uploaded to the websites, along with lewd captions, some that threatened rape.
One victim was harassed with waves of inappropriate text messages. Nevertheless, Zhang hoped to remain friends with her “in real life” despite his smothering communications via phone.
“I was amazed that Mr. Zhang did not realize that the posting of these photos on pornographic websites — that is real life,” Miami-Dade County Judge William Altfield said at Monday’s hearing, adding: “Because of your incessant behavior, wanting to be with these girls, you did not understand that your actions were causing them emotional distress. That is real life.”
Zhang must remove the hundreds of photos of the women from at least three websites, as well as any left on his computer. The court also ordered Zhang, who has not been charged criminally, to undergo mental-health treatment for sex offenders.
The ruling was a victory for the two women whose selfies, social pics and family photos wound up on the websites. Against the backdrop of heightened awareness over sexual harassment against women, the scandal shocked the university’s medical school and raised questions about why administrators allowed Zhang to stay enrolled despite longstanding complaints about his behavior.
“This is not only important to her but to all the women at the University of Miami medical school who were affected by the stalking and conduct of Mr. Zhang,” said Carl Kafka, the lawyer representing one of the women who was victimized.
Said Sam Rabin, the lawyer for the second woman: “This ruling cannot undo the damage that he did, but it does provide her with some peace of mind.”
The university expelled Zhang shortly after the Miami Herald first reported on the bizarre case. He is now living back home in Southern Pines, N.C.
In November, a group of female students discovered their photos uploaded to websites for foot-fetish fans and for men who masturbate while viewing images of everyday women — while also sometimes photographing themselves doing so. Many of the posts identified the UM women by name.
Lawyers for two of the women linked the posts to Zhang, a third-year medical student who was known among classmates for flooding women with inappropriate text messages and showing up at social events uninvited.
At a hearing in domestic violence court last week, Zhang refused to testify about the case. Through his lawyer, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent 88 times; he remains under criminal investigation.
During the hearing, the judge heard from a number of UM students about Zhang’s troubling behavior, and his fixation on one 24-year-old student. She complained repeatedly to the university of Zhang’s stalking, which included harassing text messages, showing up to the library moments after she posted her location on social media and taking photos of her and her feet at a Wynwood bar.
In 2016, the university ordered Zhang to stay away from the woman, who was notified of the fetish websites more than a year later.
“It’s disgusting,” she said at the hearing last week. “The fact that someone took this picture of me and put it on a pornographic website, the fact that it’s been viewed so many times, it’s degrading to my reputation as a woman,”