Imagine if your most intimate moments were streamed live for your classmates without your consent. What’s the punishment for such an invasion of privacy, especially if it revealed your secret sexual orientation and drove you to jump off the George Washington Bridge? Rest in peace, Tyler Clementi. Your former roommate is currently on trial, and he’ll get what he deserves.
The question is, what sentence is appropriate for someone who says he’s not responsible for another person’s suicide? And what if he says he can prove it too?
Back in October 2010, 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, set up a webcam in their room and streamed “sexual encounters” between Clementi and his partner. A couple nights later, Ravi shared the live stream links via Twitter so others can join in on the event, categorizing his actions as a cyber anti-gay hate crime. Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge — the third teen suicide that month that was related to bullying.
Ravi’s trial began last week with jury selection. Julia McClure, the first assistant prosecutor for Middlesex County, told the jury in her opening statement:
“It was not an accident, not a mistake. Those acts were meant to cross one of the most sacred boundaries of human privacy — engaging in private sexual human activity…[his actions] were planned to expose Tyler Clementi’s sexual orientation, and they were planned to expose Tyler Clementi’s private sexual activity.”
Clementi’s roommate faces charges for invasion of privacy, hindering apprehension and tampering with a witness and evidence. He is also charged with two counts of bias intimidation — a hate crime that carries added penalties of up to 10 years in prison. He has rejected a plea deal because he insists that he is innocent of any crime at all!
Now before you jump to the obvious conclusions, Ravi’s defense claims that his actions did not come from a place of hate in regards to Clementi’s sexual orientation; the roommate says he is comfortable with homosexuality and sent an apologetic message to Clementi before he committed suicide. The defense is also questioning whether Clementi was actually outed by Ravi’s acts by arguing that Clementi told relatives that he was gay and that Ravi learned of his roommate’s sexual orientation through an online search. Ravi’s lawyer opened with the following statement:
“We do stupid things, we make mistakes, especially when we’re young — it doesn’t mean we’re hateful, we’re bigoted or we’re criminal. In fact, Dharun never intimidated anyone. He never committed a crime, he never committed a hateful crime. He’s not homophobic. He’s not anti-gay.”
So if the decision to repeatedly capture your roommate in a tryst with another man wasn’t rooted from a hateful place, then what the heck inspired such an idea? A good laugh? A curious attitude? And in all seriousness and for the sake of the Hot Button Issue of the Week, I ask this: even if it wasn’t Ravi’s intention to bully Clementi in any way, should he still be punished because his actions led to another person’s death?
Other technicalities are also up for debate: if a live stream can be considered a “broadcast,” if the most damaging testimony by Ravi’s accomplice is valid because he lied to the police during an initial questioning, if the current legislature can even issue a punishment for cyber bullying or hate crime of this nature. Clementi also approached his RA and requested a room switch after Ravi violated his privacy. More and more details are now surfacing (you can follow the trial at NYDailyNews.com), and a verdict will be reached in the coming weeks.
Should Ravi be held accountable for all that’s charged against him because Clementi is now gone? Or are his actions being held to an impossible standard because Clementi is now gone? Where do you stand?
Ashley is a UC San Diego grad who is holding on way too tightly to a potential career in magazines and goes to Vegas all too often. She’s fascinated with celebrities and strawberry beer and doubles as a pathological texter/emailer/blogger. Feed the addiction with tweets @cashleelee. Thanks in advance.