US student jumps to death after gay webcam footage

Two students at Rutgers have been charged with invasion of privacy.

Last Updated: Oct 01, 2010, 11:16 AM IST

New York: Two undergraduates at a US university have been arrested after a fellow student they allegedly filmed and broadcast over the Internet during a gay encounter leapt to his death from a New York bridge.

The tragedy appeared to be the latest in a growing trend of sophisticated technology and social networking sites being used to give old-fashioned bullying -- especially of homosexual youngsters -- a vicious new twist.

First-year student Tyler Clementi, 18, at Rutgers University in New Jersey, killed himself shortly after being spied on and having footage of himself streamed online.

Prosecutors said that two students at Rutgers had been charged with invasion of privacy and that investigators were considering further charges linked to the fact that Clementi was apparently filmed in a homosexual act.

"The ongoing investigation is considering the motives," the Middlesex County prosecutor`s office said.

"We will be making every effort to assess whether bias played a role in the incident, and, if so, we will bring appropriate charges," Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan added.

According to US news reports, Clementi, a talented violinist, was secretly filmed by his roommate, Dharun Ravi, while kissing another man. The film was allegedly broadcast live from a webcam, then shared on the iChat network.

Ravi also allegedly used Twitter to advertise the sordid spying.

"Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly`s room and turned on my Web cam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay," Ravi tweeted, according to the New York Post.

Fellow first-year student Molly Wei was the other student arrested in the incident.

Three days later, on September 22, Clementi posted on his Facebook page: "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry."

That same evening he jumped off the soaring George Washington Bridge, which connects New York City to New Jersey, and into the Hudson River.

Anti-bullying advocate Jowharah Sanders said Clementi was one of at least four teenagers who committed suicide across the United States in September after gay-related harassment.

The others were a 15-year-old who hanged himself in Indiana, a 13-year-old who shot himself in Texas, and just this week another 13-year-old who died in hospital in California days after hanging himself.

"It`s got to stop," said Sanders, president of National Voices for Equality, Education and Enlightenment. "It is turning more and more deadly. More children are dying and we`re speaking up about it."

Cyberbullying in general is a growing phenomenon in an era when even very young students carry cellphone cameras and regularly use social networking systems.

"Kids have been bullying each other for generations. The latest generation, however, has been able to utilise technology to expand their reach and the extent of their harm," a research paper on www.cyberbullying.us says.

According to the site, estimates of youths who have endured cyberbullying vary from 10 to 40 percent and is likely to be about 20 percent of 11- to 18-year-olds.

The ubiquity of social networking works the other way too, with Facebook, YouTube and other popular platforms becoming tools for those opposing the bullies.

A Facebook page set up as a memorial to Clementi quickly attracted thousands of followers, while hundreds visited another page urging Rutgers students to wear black on Friday in his memory.

"We must fight this once and for all... Hate Crimes, bullying, stalking, invasion of privacy and the pain of having your personal life shattered because of your sexual orientation," the Tyler Clementi Memorial Facebook page said.

Columnist Louis Hochman, with the Ridgewood Patch newspaper, which covers Clementi`s former hometown, said the tragedy "couldn`t have unfolded without some of today`s most popular tools."

However, "the tools they used may have been particular to our time, but the sentiment driving them wasn`t. There`s nothing new about meanness, nor irresponsibility."

The two suspects have not spoken in public since the tragedy.

Both face prison terms of up to five years if convicted on invasion of privacy charges. A hate crime charge would be significantly more serious.

A friend of Ravi told ABC television that the incident amounted to a prank gone wrong, rather than an anti-gay persecution.

"He`s very, very open-minded," the friend, Michael Zhuang, said on ABC. "If it had been a girl in the room it wouldn`t have been any different."

But Steven Goldstein, a homosexual rights activist with Garden State Equality, said such bullying amounted to a hate crime.

"The New Jersey hate crimes law encompasses invasion of privacy and exactly the kind of situation that Tyler Clementi faced. The law is clear. We at Garden State Equality will not relent in calling for a hate crimes prosecution."

Bureau Report