Prosecutors Investigating Bias in Clementi Case

[Trigger warning for sexual assault, homophobia, and suicide.]

Prosecutors are investigating "whether additional charges, including bias, may be brought against two Rutgers University students accused of invading the privacy of fellow student Tyler Clementi," the young man who took his own life after his roommate filmed and broadcast a private sexual encounter without his consent.
"The initial focus of this investigation has been to determine who was responsible for remotely activating the camera in the dormitory room of the student and then transmitting the encounter on the Internet," Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan said.

"Now that two individuals have been charged with invasion of privacy, we will be making every effort to assess whether bias played a role in the incident, and, if so, we will bring appropriate charges," Kaplan said in a statement.

Under New Jersey law, a person is guilty of bias intimidation if he or she commits a crime with the purpose of intimidating someone because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin or ethnicity; or if the victim or victim's property was selected as a target because of the same factors.
Intent is difficult to prove, and, while I think Dharun Ravi's tweet about his electronic spying—"I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."—is pretty obviously homophobic, I'm not sure it's going to meet the threshold for a bias charge. Still, it's reassuring to know that the possibility is being considered and thoroughly investigated.

In less good news, there's still a lot of "but they're so nice" stuff, in reference the two people charged with invading Clementi's privacy, being inserted into news articles.
But Raj Ardeshna, 17, a senior at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North in Plainsboro, N.J., and a former classmate of both defendants, told CNN that the two were "terrific people."

"To know that two intelligent kids could get caught up in something like this is shocking to me," Ardeshna said. "The only rationale I've been able to come up with is that they thought they were being funny -- but I really couldn't tell you.

"Without a doubt they must both be filled with regret and are distraught over what happened to Tyler, and as cliched as it sounds -- they are both good people," Ardeshna said. "And they just turned 18 and they just went to college, and everyone slips up without understanding the consequences."

Kirbi Marquez, a Rutgers student and a classmate of Ravi and Wei in high school, told CNN "had they known the consequences of their actions, they would not have considered doing this."

"I'm sure they're bearing the guilt, they're both sympathetic people and good kids and they didn't mean for any of this to happen," said Marquez.

Why it's considered newsworthy that friends of people who did something terrible think they're "good people" is beyond me.

Meanwhile, I continue to *rage*seethe*boil* at the lack of discussion in major media about how Clementi's suicide would have been entirely preventable if we didn't live in a fucked-up culture in which it's considered a "fun prank" to film someone else's sexual activity without hir consent.

Where larger context is being discussed, the scenario is frequently being misrepresented as "cyberbullying," but this case does not appear to be about two people who set out to hurt another person with malicious intent; it appears to be about internalized biases making them regard evidence of homosexuality as "funny" and socialized indifference to consent making them regard broadcasting that evidence as acceptable.

Institutional homophobia meets the rape culture.

Too many people will read that line and feel inclined to argue that they see proof of neither homophobia nor the rape culture in this case, which underlines exactly why both are important to publicly explore. Just as the rape culture does not exclusively manifest as demonstrable sexual violence, homophobia does not exclusively manifest as physical violence against queer people, or even expressed hostility toward queer people.

It's eminently possible that Ravi and/or Wei even expressed support for LGBTQI peers, and, in the abstract, meant it. But when faced with the knowledge that he was going to be living with a gay man, Ravi reportedly tweeted: "Found out my roommate is gay?" and then secretly filmed Clementi and broadcast it, making note that he "saw him making out with a dude." Ravi may well have been not homophobic in theory, but in actual practice, he appears to have had issues with his gay roommate.

That's not the kind of thing for which we should be trying to find excuses, despite what nearly every comment thread in the world on this story suggests to the contrary. That's the kind of thing we need to call out for what it is, and not hide behind quotes from friends about what "good kids" Ravi and Wei are.

Good kids can do terrible things.

Frankly, given how comprehensively our culture is steeped in virulent homophobia (and other biases) and antipathy to consent, it's shameful that we act surprised when they do.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus