Ex-Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi received guilty verdicts in the case against him for spying on his roommate Tyler Clementi. This involved Ravi’s use of a webcam to capture Clementi’s intimacies in his dorm room with another man (identified as M.B. during the trial), who testified that he noticed Ravi’s webcam pointed toward Clementi’s bed in the room. That testimony and many other facts obviously sealed Ravi’s fate, and now he faces up to ten years in prison.
The story would be bad enough if it ended there, but Clementi was so distraught over the spying – and the fact that Ravi had invited other students to view Clementi’s trysts with the man – that he was driven over the edge, causing him to commit suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Clementi’s devastated parents sat in court as the verdict was read (and to their credit have even called for leniency in the sentencing of Ravi), but no verdict or penalty could assuage their grief for the loss of their son.
Of course, this verdict should be taken not as justice in this particular case but as a victory against bullying everywhere. What Ravi was doing was clearly bullying in every sense of the word. He brought in silent witnesses who did nothing to prevent the act, and he intimidated Clementi with those actions and drove him to suicide (something that happens more frequently than people can imagine in cases of bullying).
School districts all over the country are investing millions of dollars in anti-bullying programs. These districts have recognized that bullying is not just a rite of passage in schools but a distinctly ugly and dangerous practice that should have been addressed many years ago. Sadly, we will never know how many young people have been lost because of this, but now things are changing (slowly) for the better.
It used to be it was a given that the big kid pushed the little ones around. Kids got lunch money taken, toys, jackets, etc. Many films have made light of this as an expected part of childhood. Even in last year’s blockbuster film Captain America, we see skinny Brooklyn kid Steve Rogers getting roughed up by the bigger bad boys in town. While all of this can reach a level of parody that is familiar and sometimes comic, in reality kids who have had to face this can tell you a far different story.
There are many different kinds of bullying, each with facets that are tangible and intangible. A bully doesn’t just have to rough another kid up. Bullying can be verbal, it can involve gestures, written notes, suggestions, and drawings. Technology has brought bullying into a new era because of the immediacy of cyber-bullying: e-mails, text messages, and social networking. What Clementi obviously feared was that a video of his tryst could go viral, and he could not take that ultimate invasion of his privacy. Many others face similar situations and may contemplate the only way out just as Clementi did.
This verdict is a sound one and sends a clear message – bullying cannot and will not be tolerated. School districts have embraced a variety of programs and are educating young people; sadly, Clementi and Ravi did not benefit from this in their education. Hopefully, this will help change perceptions and bring awareness, but the verdict is a powerful statement by the jury and bullies everywhere should realize that their reign of terror will be short lived.
None of this brings back Tyler Clementi, or any person lost to suicide because of bullying, but his legacy should be that he will be remembered by others and his case will spark even more change for the better for young people everywhere. That will be a good thing but achieved at a terrible price.
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