Sex Ranking List Of Girls At Oak Park-River Forest High School Not Criminal, Expert Says
A 17-year-old high school student from a Chicago suburb was arrested Monday for allegedly creating and distributing a list of 50 classmates ranked in terms of their sexual desirability.
To be sure, it must have been humiliating for these girls to be derided with nicknames like "Fallen Angel," "Blond Bombshell" and "The Hangover" -- and to have their body parts and supposed level of promiscuity rated on a 10-point ranking system -- while the lunchroom gang howled in amusement.
But as troubling as these accusations are, could a charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, which the boy now faces, possibly stick?
Not according to one expert.
"I don't know how they came to the conclusion that this is criminal," Mark Gottesman, a veteran criminal defense attorney in Santa Monica, Calif., told The Huffington Post.
"The list" -- as the infamous document is simply being called -- "was posted online and a printed copy was circulated at the high school," David Powers, a spokesman for the Oak Park Police Department told The Huffington Post.
Dale Jones, father of one of the girls, told Sun-Times Media he was happy to receive news of the teenager's arrest but that he was concerned the charge was not serious enough.
"I'm gratified that the investigation continued, and that charges are being filed," Jones said. "I'm hopeful they consider additional charges as they gather more evidence."
Gottesman said he recognizes that the teen's alleged behavior should not be brought into a school environment, but also said the teen has certain rights of his own that are protected.
"He obviously offended people but he also has a right to free speech," the attorney said. "Obviously, it could cause frustration or hurt to the young women involved and I can understand that -- I would be genuinely upset of I were a parent in that situation -- but this is not criminal."
The alleged incident occurred in January, when the defendant allegedly created "the list," according to officials at Oak Park-River Forest High School. He is accused of distributing a four-page copy of it on the social networking website Facebook, as well as passing out physical copies at the school.
"The girls were ranked using derogatory nicknames," Katherine Foran, communications director for the high school, told the Huffington Post. "There were some racial, ethnic slurs [and] much of it was about their alleged peccadilloes."
Foran likened the list to a similar one in "The Social Network," where Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, portrayed by actor Jesse Eisenberg, rated college co-eds.
"The list came out the same week that 'Social Network' received [eight] Oscar [nominations], so it resonated because here was an abusive use of Facebook and girls were ranked," Foran said.
Officials at the school became aware of the list on Jan. 14, when the alleged creator distributed it at the school during lunch to a cheering crowd of students. One of the girls on the list told Chicago's CBS Channel 2 News she was humiliated.
"When you know that many people are reading some really personal things about you, it's going to affect you some way," the girl said.
In the wake of the incident, several reports surfaced, indicating the student had been expelled for his alleged actions, but Foran said that was not the case.
"Within the same week this was going on, the boy's legal guardians withdrew him from the school," she said. "So, the school did not pursue disciplinary action [because] he was no longer a student."
Foran said the school focused their attention on "counseling and working through these issues with the girls."
The high school principal, Nathaniel L. Rouse, also addressed students who found the list humorous via a PA announcement. He said, in part:
"How many of you cheered as the student distributed the list and took a bow in the Student Center after a speech? Were you one of the students who raced to grab your own copy? Did you eagerly scan the ugly words about your classmates instead of throwing the paper in the trash? ...
If you answered yes to any of the questions I just asked, then you have to own that you, too, played a role in the resulting hurt and pain. And you should be disappointed in yourself."
According to Powers, authorities have spent the last four months working with the Cook County State's Attorney's office to build a case against the teen. The disorderly conduct charge was filed on Monday, and the boy was processed and released into the custody of his parents.
Powers declined to comment further, saying: "He is a minor [so] there is not much that can be said about it."
Whether or not the teen will contest the charge against him is yet to be seen. The alleged victims can, however, still try to hold him accountable in a court of law, according to Gottesman.
"This would be a civil case, meaning the parents of the girls could sue the child or the guardian of the child," the attorney said. "What he published might not have been true, so that could be libel. It depends on his rating system and if what he was saying is untrue."
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