This week, a former college student at Rutgers was found guilty of committing a hate crime after he used a computer webcam to film sexual activities performed by his gay roommate, who later committed suicide.
According to a report from Reuters, 20-year-old Dharun Ravi could face up to 10 years in prison on his most serious charge, bias intimidation, which was committed against his 18-year-old roommate Tyler Clementi.
Sources indicate that Ravi filmed Clementi’s sexual exploits and invited other students to watch the live feed of the activities from the webcam that was placed on top of his computer.
Three days after Clementi learned that his roommate had filmed and posted the video of his intimate encounter, the beleaguered teenager committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.
The tragedy stunned the entire country, and led to a wave of anti-bullying public service announcements. Perhaps the most famous of these efforts is the “It Gets Better” campaign, which was started by activist Dan Savage and quickly went viral.
In his trial, after 12 hours of deliberations, a jury convicted Ravi on 15 different criminal counts, including bias intimidation based on sexual orientation, invasion of privacy, and tampering with evidence and witnesses.
Fortunately for Ravi, though, he was not charged with actually causing Clementi’s death. But the criminal charges may lead to Ravi’s eventual departure from the United States.
Sources say that Ravi is an Indian citizen, although he has lived in the United States for the majority of his life. He will be sentenced in May, and he currently is free on a $25,000 bail, although a judge made him surrender his passport. Because of his foreign citizenship, Ravi may be deported.
While many observers cheered the verdict as an appropriate punishment for Ravi’s actions, others are concerned that the decision wrongly elevates social media bullying from a simple prank to a serious criminal offense.
According to James Jacobs, a professor at New York University School of Law, the decision “illustrates the dysfunction of hate crime laws that were passed with the idea that they would strike out against hate groups and neo-Nazi groups, and instead end up being used in these one-off kind of cases, where immature confused young people act in some way that evidences prejudice.”
But another law professor in New York, Susan Abraham, believes that the decision will have a “deterrent effect” on future cruel acts of bullying and is thus a “very important” decision.