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Rutgers freshman commits suicide after roommate and accomplice live-streams his sexual encounter

Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi was very shy but seemed to feel at home playing his violin in front of an audience. He was such a talented violinist, a friend was quoted as saying, "when he played his violin, everyone felt something." What a wonderful testament to Tyler's gift.

From few pictures of Tyler that I've seen, he reminds me of a few kids I knew in high school and college who were sweet, quiet, but a bit geeky. It appears two Rutgers students, Dharun Ravi, Tyler's roommate, and Molly Wei, Dharun's high school buddy, might have seen these same qualities in Tyler and thought that made him source of entertainment for them over a hundred of their friends. Last week, Ravi and Wei decided it would be hilarious to secretly stream live video of Tyler's sexual encounter with another male Rutgers student over the internet.

The following day Tyler jumped off the George Washington Bridge. From the New York Post:

It was a fatal blow struck from cyberspace.

A shy Rutgers freshman was so humiliated when two cruel classmates secretly streamed live video of his gay encounter that he leaped to his death from the George Washington Bridge, authorities said yesterday.

"Jumping off the gw bridge sorry," Tyler Clementi, 18, posted on his Facebook page just eight minutes before his plunge at around 8:50 p.m. on Sept. 22.

Clementi's suicide led to a swift criminal probe and the arrest of his roommate, Dharun Ravi, and a fellow freshman, Molly Wei, for their alleged vile voyeurism.

NYPD Harbor Unit cops yesterday pulled the body of a young man from the waters off Manhattan's northern tip -- and cops suspect it was that of Clementi, a quiet, highly talented violinist from Ridgewood, NJ.

Authorities hoped that a watch found on his wrist would help identify him. Last night, NYPD detectives visited the teen's parents, who were apparently unaware that their son was gay.

Robert Righthand, who had been friends with Clementi since grade school, said his pal had been holding that in.

Tyler's Facebook update didn't say why he committed suicide so we don't know for a fact that he was driven by humiliation at Ravi's and Wei's live streaming his having sex with another guy. It is possible that Tyler had other problems that were the source for his suicide, although it doesn't look that way right now.

The narrative about Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei that's making its way around the internet right now is that they were motivated by homophobia and I can understand why people would automatically make this assumption. But if we look at Ravi's public comments on Twitter, his contempt and ridicule was directed at Clementi only. If he had been motivated by an anti-gay bigotry, wouldn't his comments have been directed at both men since they were both engaged in the sexual activity? I suspect if Clementi had been straight, Ravi would have found something else to torment him with.

Dr. Keith Ablow at Fox News says the internet and social media are to blame for the actions of all three kids. I completely disagree:

This "stunt" isn't just a college prank gone bad. It is evidence of the dehumanizing effects that technology is having on young people. I very much doubt that Ravi and Wei are murderers at heart. The "thrill'' of using a Webcam and Skype and Twitter to play-act as producers and directors turned their victim (Clementi) into nothing more than another contestant on a mean-spirited, ill-conceived reality show.

That's what technology does to people, though. Working from behind a camera and sending images into cyberspace now removes the human face from the actions of many, many people. The hardware and software of Skype and Facebook and Twitter and many, many other Web standards can be a virus that scrambles the code of the empathy on the hard drives of their souls. They literally turn into the purveyors of entertainment who lose sight of where Web life begins and real life ends.

Yet here is the most frightening possibility of all: Wei and Ravi may have had no deep, dark desire to bully and humiliate someone to death at all.

The Web and webcams and Skype and Twitter may have hijacked essentially decent people, kindled some potential for intrigue and eroticism and practical joking that resides in millions and millions of young Americans and turned it in a lethal force.

I understand to a degree what Dr. Ablow is saying. Kids' developing brains aren't as equipped to differentiate the fine line between the Internet and real life. I understand that. Nonetheless, the argument that it's all technology's fault not only just lets Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei off the hook, but is misdirected. The technology Ravi used is irrelevant here. The central issue is intent. Ravi intended to violate Tyler's privacy by live streaming for everyone to watch what he knew would be his sexual encounter with another man. Technology was their tool in the 20th century. If Ravi lived ten years ago he probably would have taken pictures or planted an audio recording device in his dorm room. This kind of callousness is a flaw inherent in these kids. Ravi's splashing Tyler's most private and intimate activities on the internet in spite of seeing him and speaking to him on a regular basis illustrates how he was able to dehumanize him.

Behaviors like this don't just appear out of nowhere in kids who at their core have always been kind, hardworking, and fair minded. I would not be surprised if we find out later that this wasn't the first time they, or at least Ravi since he was the one who actually broadcast the live stream online, behaved so cruelly toward someone else.


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Comments (33)

Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei A... (Below threshold)

Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei ARE guilty of a hate crime, no matter how you look at it. But they probably won't be charged with one:

http://gravelle.us/content/tyler-clementi-hate-crime-victim

Congratulations, lawmakers. Once again, you've made a tragic situation even worse...

-jjg

Dr. Ablow is full of shit. ... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

Dr. Ablow is full of shit. He attempts to portray the perps as "victims". And as for his slam on modern technology, that's been going around since the first caveman picked up a rock.

Perhaps Ablow never heard of the doctored photos in the 1950's that Tailgunner Joe used to throw around. All that took was a pair of scissors.

Technologies aren't good or... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

Technologies aren't good or evil. They are tools, like hammers or axes. Used properly, they are a great boon. But they may also be used for evil, depending solely upon the hand which wields them.

Neither should we be quick to judge the perpetrators as "evil," although their deeds certainly were. They may not be bad people at heart but, lacking a firm grounding in values, they were fertile ground for evil to grow, just as an untended garden invites weeds.

"Hate crimes" are nonsense, a part of the leftist attempt to degrade society into identity classes. Would the young man be any less dead if his partner had been an old ugly female prostitute? Would it then be a "love crime?"

Perhaps the two perpetrator... (Below threshold)
Roy:

Perhaps the two perpetrators are just assholes, who can't mind their own business. There's quite a lot of that going around.

Can't they charge these to ... (Below threshold)
Michael:

Can't they charge these to scumballs with manslaughter?

"Can't they charge these to... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

"Can't they charge these to scumballs with manslaughter?"

Nope, that would require the performance of an act that has the potential/foreseeable result of death. You'd have to show that they did this, knowing Clementi was psychologically unstable.

As a mother of two teenager... (Below threshold)
Wordygirl:

As a mother of two teenagers (one just off to college this year as well), I have defintiely noticed a propensity for them to say things through texting and social media such as Facebook (on which I am a "friend")that they might hesitate to say in person. So in one sense, I agree that technology does tend to insulate participants to a certain degree from their actions. However, there is no doubt that with or without technology, these were two incredibly malicious and hateful persons.

Am I a horrible person? I w... (Below threshold)
Sean Sorrentino:

Am I a horrible person? I would like to take the two to the GW Bridge and see if they have the shame to jump off themselves. They probably don't.

I wish both would be:... (Below threshold)
jim2:

I wish both would be:

1) Expelled for gross violation of privacy of another student,

2) Prosecuted to the extent possible, and

3) Be required to prominently and permanently place their roles in this on their resumes.

It's not a hate crime.... (Below threshold)
jim m:

It's not a hate crime.

It's not manslaughter.

It possibly breaks state or federal wiretap laws.

It definitely provides the grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit and it probably provides grounds for expulsion from the university.

As for the idiot Dr, this is not about social media as much as it is about people not being taught about boundaries and learning to have some social restraint and respect for others.

I hope the two morons who did this learn a very harsh lesson in respecting privacy and individual rights.

It's a tragedy, but not a h... (Below threshold)
TexBob:

It's a tragedy, but not a hate crime.

I disagree with Dr. Ablow. ... (Below threshold)
sarahconnor2:

I disagree with Dr. Ablow. My fifteen year old knows better than to do something like this to someone else. When I was 18, I would have known this was cruel and wrong. Those two students are not the victims-they are the victimizers.

God be with Clementi's family. Both my husband and I, as parents of three boys, found this story devestating. We could barely explain what happened when our teenager asked about it. You send a sweet, talented kid off to college and he gets bullied to death within a couple of weeks. This story is just too horrible.

jim m: wrongful death lawsu... (Below threshold)
steve:

jim m: wrongful death lawsuit? The two accused students did not 'cause' the death. Taping Clementi was wrong, but he and he alone is responsible for his death.... just as he and he alone would be responsible if, instead of committing suicide, he had gone postal and shot up a lecture hall full of students... or, as was the case with the Ft Hood psycho, shooting up an Army base because some other people weren't as nice to him as he wanted them to be.

Steve @13 raises a good poi... (Below threshold)
CharlieDontSurf:

Steve @13 raises a good point...how would this story have read if instead of jumping off a bridge, Clementi had hacked the perps to pieces with an axe?

If it was a male and female... (Below threshold)
TexBob:

If it was a male and female taped and shown on the internet with the same result, would the public outcry be the same?

Somehow I seriously doubt it, thought it would be equally tragic.

I completely agree with you... (Below threshold)
ryan a:

I completely agree with your argument against his doctor, Kim. Too many people want to automatically blame "technology." All that does is completely absolve individuals of responsibility. The internet isn't the problem here--the problem is the cruel actions of the college kids who thought it would be "funny" to post something very personal online.

Technology and sites, 'It... (Below threshold)
Steve Crickmore:

Technology and sites, 'It Gets Better' can help gay kids who are being bullied as well, and the bullying seems pretty intense, and adults won't do too much to protect the victims of the bulliers.

But everything that makes being young and vulnerable today potentially horrendous -- access to a video camera, the postings on a Facebook page -- can also be the very tools that can save a teenager's life. After the death of Billy Lucas, columnist and author Dan Savage decided enough was enough and launched the It Gets Better Project, a YouTube channel of messages of encouragement and survival aimed at gay and lesbian youth. As he explained in his "Savage Love" column, "Gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied.
i'm curious as to how the m... (Below threshold)
gollyneds:

i'm curious as to how the media hasn't found the surviving partner and turned him into a martyr as well.

May God rest his soul. Unf... (Below threshold)
Ken D.:

May God rest his soul. Unfortunately, many young people don't stop and think of the potential consequences of their actions. I doubt these two did as well. They have a lot to live with for the rest of their lives. I can't help but wonder how it will affect them as they go forward in life.

From what I have read Dharu... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

From what I have read Dharun Ravi was surprised when Clementi's date turned out to be a dude. Thus, Ravi wasn't motivated by Clementi being homosexual, but by plain old voyeurism or perhaps as a mean-spirited prank. Even if Clementi had been openly gay or even straight, having an intimate sexual encounter unknowingly streamed live to the internet would be incredibly embarrassing, particularly if fetishes or fantasies are revealed. Clementi had never told his parents he was gay and was literally embarrassed to death.

Causing Clementi's death wasn't Ravi's intention, but it was the result. Authorities are likely going to make an example of Ravi in the hopes of deterring others from committing such ill-conceived stunts.

Steve #13:Actually... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Steve #13:

Actually the argument can be made that the proximate cause of Clementi's death was his roommate puting the video online and ridiculing him. If you can convince people that the reason Clementi took his life was that act by his roommate then you have a wrongful death case.

Actually, I think they have a good chance of winning one.

TexBob #15 -I cann... (Below threshold)
jim2:

TexBob #15 -

I cannot speak for others, but my position would absolutely be the same for hetero. Can you provide any bases for your doubts?

A bit OT, but in other resp... (Below threshold)
Jay Guevaraq:

A bit OT, but in other respects not (i.e., public disparagement):

Perhaps Ablow never heard of the doctored photos in the 1950's that Tailgunner Joe used to throw around. All that took was a pair of scissors.

GarandFan, this is characterized by some as a Dan Ratherian piece of disinformation re McCarthy, who a) apparently had nothing to do with this, and b) also apparently was not intended to be interpreted as a single photograph, but rather as a juxtaposition of two people who shared similar views.

See M. Stanton Evans's Blacklisted by History for an analysis. Is Evans's analysis correct? I don't know - and would welcome insight on this point.

Pondscum is pondscum, and I... (Below threshold)
Ryan:

Pondscum is pondscum, and I don't care if they victimize a gay or straight, they are still pond scum.

Let's at least settle on a ... (Below threshold)
leesus:

Let's at least settle on a single narrative:

Outing gay people and destroying their lives is cool, if they are republican. Since we have no evidence this kid was a republican (innocent until proven guilty) this is obviously a hate crime.

Or should we just adopt an 'Out-Every-Single-One-We-Find' policy, similar to the modern democrat party, in which case we should celebrate Ravi and see if MSNBC or Vanity Fair has an open spot for him. Ravi becomes a hero, just like every idiot that outed gay republicans. The real scandal is that he chose to live a closeted life unlike his openly gay democrat friends, and that means the real villain is obviously Sarah Palin.

Seriously though, I wonder if the "Isn't-Gay-Just-Fabulous" gay activism encourages this. Gay is obviously not fabulous, or at least the gay dude didn't think so. He knew what he was doing was disgusting and deviant, but he was getting away with it in secret, and he liked it. And just like getting caught masturbating at work, the embarrassment of getting caught was more than he wanted to endure. That reveals that he knew what he was doing was unacceptable, and that he certainly was not proud of it.

Or maybe he was just celebrating gay pride by jumping of a bridge? I could be wrong...
-lee
+++

jim m: winning such a case ... (Below threshold)
steve:

jim m: winning such a case would be because the jury went on emotion, period. the proximate cause of his death was his jumping off the bridge, a decision he and he alone made... and which took place a good while after the alleged tapings.

and somewhat just for argument's sake, why is everybody assuming the taping had anything to do with his suicide? isn't it rather evidence of society's bias that we assume he was embarrassed by the tape, or by being a homosexual and so much so that he would commit suicide? It isn't as if everybody who is gay and/or has a sex tape commits suicide? His suicide posting didn't list a cause, why assume it was this and not something else that wasn't going the way he wanted? Maybe he got dumped by his lover? Maybe he decided that Rutgers was a crappy school and that he was never going to be happy there? What a bunch of bigots.

Steve, jim m responded resp... (Below threshold)
Oyster:

Steve, jim m responded respectfully to your comment and you come back with calling everyone bigots?

If you have an argument, state it and leave the broad-brushed name calling out of it.

Frankly, I think jim m has a point there and whether the jury acts on emotion or not has no bearing on whether the case has merit enough to go to trial. If the jury acts on emotion that would be after a judge granted that the case go forward based on facts presented.

You have a good point too about personal responsibility. But that is a point that would be argued in court to try and persuade a jury to not act emotionally and stick to whatever facts come out that may indicate that Clementi was not suicidal before the episode.

I think this though was just scraping the surface ot the issue: "isn't it rather evidence of society's bias that we assume he was embarrassed by the tape, or by being a homosexual and so much so that he would commit suicide?" It wasn't just that he was gay. It was that it was such an intimate experience, too, that was broadcast to the world. I think that such a tape would be extremely embarrassing, straight or gay.

All in all I don't think anyone would argue that Clementi is ultimately responsible for his own actions. But it could be argued in court that the two students contributed to Clementi's suicide which would indicate that they bear and share a degree of responsibility.

Oyster: 'bigot' was typed w... (Below threshold)
steve:

Oyster: 'bigot' was typed with a smile, in hindsight I should have left it out since it didn't come across that way. As to your point to my point: why do people- assume that the tape had anything to do with his suicide? I think this speaks to society's biases (not anti-homosexual, but more in terms of how we view things), in that, given any number of things that could have contributed to his suicide, and without (as far I know) any direct evidence (that A led to B), everybody concludes he must have been terribly embarrassed by it and so much so that he'd commit suicide. A lot of young people commit suicide every year, most of whom aren't gay and/or haven't had their sex lives posted on the internet. Some of those who have sex tapes posted on the internet revel in the attention and go on to star in reality TV. Maybe his reason for committing suicide was more in lines with the 'typical' reasons and this taping was merely coincidental?

there is no such thing as a... (Below threshold)
Idahoser:

there is no such thing as a 'hate crime'.

if the kid didn't want his actions to become public knowledge, he had a bit of control over the matter himself, you know?

"Seriously though, I wonder... (Below threshold)
Jeff L:

"Seriously though, I wonder if the "Isn't-Gay-Just-Fabulous" gay activism encourages this. Gay is obviously not fabulous, or at least the gay dude didn't think so. He knew what he was doing was disgusting and deviant, but he was getting away with it in secret, and he liked it. And just like getting caught masturbating at work, the embarrassment of getting caught was more than he wanted to endure. That reveals that he knew what he was doing was unacceptable, and that he certainly was not proud of it.

Or maybe he was just celebrating gay pride by jumping of a bridge? I could be wrong...
-lee
+++"

WOW.

"...why do people- assum... (Below threshold)
Oyster:

"...why do people- assume that the tape had anything to do with his suicide?"

Are you saying it's a stretch? Because it certainly isn't. Frankly, I'm thinking it's entirely possible that it was the straw that broke the camel's back.

I mean here was a guy that was likely trying to come to terms with his sexuality and had not even told his parents yet and, before he can privately work his own problems out, these idiots broadcast it to the world.

So yeah, I'm thinking it had something to do with his decision. And I don't think it's an unreasonable assumption.

Seems there may be <a href=... (Below threshold)
SteveM:

Seems there may be
more to the story
-- always something to consider when MSM reporting is involved.

Oyster, 1; Opponents, 0.</p... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

Oyster, 1; Opponents, 0.




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