Dharun Ravi Is A Man

Eric Henney believes the fact that Ravi’s bigotry was common and juvenile doesn’t make it any less damaging or dangerous.

On Friday, Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers student who twice used a webcam to spy on his roommate, Tyler Clementi, while he had sex with another man, was found guilty on 15 charges. They include invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering and hindering arrest.

While the facts of the case are pretty clear (there is no uncertainty, for example, over whether Ravi set up a webcam and showed his friends, or whether Clementi requested a room change after the incidents), deliberation on the core charges of bias intimidation required jurors to make a decision on the parts of each student’s inner-thoughts and motivations, which is manifestly unclear. For this reason, many articles, like this one by Jay Michaelson, have spread across the Internet.

Michaelson argues that, “Whatever was going through Ravi’s head is no different from what millions of other 18-year-olds think, and feel, all the time—including, every jock I went to high school with.” The implication here is that Ravi should not be so heavily penalized for the mere fact that does the things that asshole kids do all the time.

And an editorial in the Newark Star-Ledger echoed Michaleson’s emotion before trivializing Ravi as a poor victim of the pressures straight people face living in a heteronormative society.

I happen to think that all this talk about the banality of Ravi’s actions is beside the point. And if broadcasting to your friends the private details of someone’s sex life is not immediately biased by homophobia, it seems reasonable to think that the record of Ravi’s bigoted words make it so.

But this case is so fat with commentary, some of it quite good, that I don’t think I can muster anything new to those points. At the same time, that does not mean the conversation has been completely dutiful.

As with any commercialized legal issue, the debates over Ravi’s case have their tropes, which are employed with such energy and alacrity that we sort of just grant them. We hear that Ravi was simply doing what freshman do, or that his homophobia is locker-room variety, or that kids do this sort of thing all the time without such disastrous repercussions. We’re meant to take these sorts of observations as truisms, and we often do.

We probably shouldn’t, though, because what they seem to presume is that we shouldn’t hold a legal adult accountable for his juvenile actions for the sheer fact that he was quite recently a juvenile.

Why? Of all the ambiguities blotting this case, Ravi’s age is not one of them. It is quite clear that he was an adult when he set up that camera, so it should follow that his actions were legally his own, and he should be held accountable for them.

And Ravi should know that. The age of majority is by no stretch of the imagination uncommon knowledge. (By the way, the age of majority in India is also 18.) He had to know, and we should assume that he knew, that once he turned 18 he could no longer hide his foolishness behind mere immaturity.

In any case, it is not as if one requires an exceptionally discerning ethical sense to understand that it is wrong and illegal to covertly broadcasting another person’s sex life. Nor is it especially arcane to think that referring to that person with words like “fag,” and saying that you want to “keep the gays away” make those actions seem homophobically charged.

This is not to say that squeamishness about the seemingly arbitrary swiftness with which children become adults is totally unmerited. 18-year olds are obviously less mature on the whole than, say, 40-year olds. And sometimes they need help figuring out what is and is not right action. But this is not one of those times. Dharun Ravi is an adult who knowingly committed an obviously wrong act, and who should have known that his carelessly bigoted words carry weight. And if he were ten years older, everyone would already have accepted that.

Ravi is due to be sentenced May 21st. He could face up to 10 years in prison and deportation to his native India. I am not sure if these upper limits are realistic here, or even merited. What I am sure of, though, is that Dharun Ravi is now a man. Please treat him like one.

About Eric Henney

Eric Henney is a freelance writer. He writes about the things he thinks about, which focus a lot on some things and not very much on other things. He has written about film, TV, books, festivals, and food for publications like Philadelphia City Paper. Follow Eric on Twitter @EHerbertHenney, and visit his website at erichenney.wordpress.com.


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Eric. What I learned from watching Law and Order is that there is a crime called “depraved indifference to human life” with which McCoy convicts guys he can’t get for the actual crime. Not sure that’s how it goes in real life.
    However, if there is something like that, then, given your stats, somebody who outs a gay person who subsequently commits suicide could be said “should have known would….”
    This punk pulled a nasty prank. By itself, it could have been just a nasty prank. If there is evidence that he hated gays and actually did this because he hated gays and not because he’s a sadistic practical joker, then it could be construed as a hate crime. I dislike the concept of hate crimes. You can always get a cell mate to testify to anything for a couple of double cheese Whoppers. So an ambitious prosecutor, listening to the crowd–see Nifong or Pilate–could gin up the additional charge in no time.
    I understand he’ll be deported. Where’s he from, anyway?

    • There is plenty of evidence that Ravi was a homophobe. Eric has provided links, go follow them and read them..

      • Actually, there’s some contradictory evidence that he wasn’t. Again, according to the New Yorker (I’m using this article as a source because it appears to be very well researched) , Ravi made some homophobic remarks to his friends, but his response to his friend’s (far worse) remarks were to essentially downplay the situation. He seemed far more concerned with social status, and mostly ridiculed Clementi for his supposed nerdiness.

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      He’s from India.

      I agree that hate crime legislation is a dangerous route to go down, but sometimes its unequivocally true. Some crimes are more than just and attack on a person, they’re an attack aimed at an entire community. That distinction makes them different from regular crimes.

      While I do think there should be an unusually high standard of evidence in order to prove that kind of motive I think it’s been satisfied in this case.

      • Again, from what I’ve read that would be very hard to prove in this case. Ravi initially thought Clementi was another “Tyler,” Tyler Picone, who is gay but shared nothing else in common with Clementi. Picone was a popular student in his high school, and Ravi’s reaction was (to paraphrase) that Picone was one of the “good gays”. Is that homophobic? Maybe. But I don’t think it points to a hatred of all gay people as a class.

        Everything I’ve read suggests that Ravi simply didn’t like Clementi and used Clementi’s sexuality to humiliate him. There is a subtle distinction between that and saying that he hated Clementi because of his sexuality. This is why I have trouble with hate crime laws.

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          Would a white guy who called a black guy “One of the good blacks” be considered a racist?

          • Yes, it would be racist, and “one of the good gays” is homophobic. But it’s not the same kind of racism or homophobia.

            Everything Ive read about this case suggests that Ravi’s motives for disliking Clementi were a lot more complicated that just “he hated gay people.”

            In general, I think people tend to oversimplify the views of people they don’t like. The most obvious example would be the idea that Islamicists “hate our freedoms,” but it happens all the time: Christians want to control everybody else; Socialists want to punish success; environmentalists want to destroy capitalism, etc.

            Like many people, I was bullied in high school, and at least one point called gay by someone. However, they had no reason to believe that I was gay at the time, they merely used that as a way to express their hostility towards me.

        • He didn’t call me a ‘good gay’ he actually thought I was one of the ‘bad’ ones. :p

  2. Michael Rowe says:

    Richard, your initial comment (s) and the subsequent ones are examples of such spectacular cluelessness that they leave one in an awkward position. One one hand, there’s such an ugly undercurrent to them that it’s difficult to believe you’re really this stupid, and malice suggests itself. On the other hand, the option is there to consider that you indeed ARE as ignorant (literally) as your comments suggest, and that the nastiness your comments suggest is really just accidental.

    While most sentient people with a passing knowledge of the lethal effects of bullying and outing (god knows, you’d have to be living in a cave for the past three years or so not to be aware of the examples of young gay men killing themselves after bullying and outing in exactly situations like these) would write you off after as a troglodyte with an agenda after reading a line like “how many gay men commit suicide when outed? This is pretty much a unique case,” I’m going to try to look to your higher self and go with the latter–that you’re just uninformed and clumsy and belligerent. The alternative doesn’t flatter you. And indeed, if there’s “drooling” going on, it’s not coming from those of us who think that this bullying shit stops here.

    Seriously, educate yourself. It’ll be good for you.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Mchael. Well, if this isn’t a unique case, then we might end up criminalizing outing somebody, right? Which could be a problem, ideologically, couldn’t it? I mean, Cheney’s daughter was outed by dem operatives trying to do something or other to the campaign.
      Choices, choices.

      • Nobody is actually suggesting that he be charged with outing someone. But he should be charged to the full extent of the law for the CRIMES he committed.

        Your wild extrapolations aren’t fooling anybody but yourself. Please note that you are all alone here, nobody is agreeing with you here OR in the thread about racism.

        Why? Because we are a bunch of young, liberal outliers? We are just a few wackadoo hippies who believe in the crazy notions of obliterating bigotry in all it’s forms? No, we aren’t just a few, this is the face of the USA now, Aubrey. There may be haters, but there are enough of us now who don’t tolerate hate that you are actually in the minority now.

        You’re a smart, talented, insightful, guy. I’ve seen that side of you a lot. But what is apparent to most people right now is that you seem fearful.

        What gives?

  3. I think it needs to be said that Ravi did NOT “out” Clementi. Clementi was out of his own accord. That doesn’t make what Ravi did okay, but it’s been portrayed as Ravi outing Clementi, which is not what happened at all.

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      Yeah, but come on. He hadn’t published videos of himself having sex on the internet. That’s a whole other level of being out which he hadn’t chosen to go to.

      • And neither did Ravi, unless you consider kissing sex.

        We should condemn Ravi for what he did, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get the facts right.

        I’m *very* anxious about the idea that someone can and should be help accountable for someone else’s suicide. IMHO, that requires too much speculation about not only Ravi’s motive but also Clementi’s motive.

        • Peter Houlihan says:

          Sorry, you’re quite correct, tried to publish footage of the guy having sex on the web and organised a “viewing party” to watch them.

          If I tried this with my (straight female) room-mate would I not be charged with something? How about if you installed a hidden camera in your neighbours shower but got caught before you saw anything of note?

          • Of course you would be charged with violating their privacy. But it has nothing to do with outing.

            My point is that a lot of what people have heard about this case is simply not the truth.
            This article from The New Yorker is a very good summary of the events:

            What is also reported in the New Yorker article is that Clementi sought advice from people he knew as to whether to report Ravi to the school. In other words, it’s not cut-and-dried that Clementi killed himself because of what Ravi did, and frankly to try and prove that is beyond the means of a criminal trial.

            • Peter Houlihan says:

              “Out” isn’t a boolean condition. Theres a difference between not hiding your sexuality and having it lampooned on the web. Even for an openly gay person having that kind of attention drawn to one’s sexuality can be disasterous.

              Ravi broke his privacy when he set up the hidden camera, but he outed him when he arranged for as many people as possible to see the results.

              As for whether Clementi killed himself because of what Ravi did, do you think it was coincidence that he killed himself right after the webcam incident? It wasn’t the subject of the covered trial but it might well be the subject of a subsequent one.

              • Joanna Schroeder says:

                All such great points, Peter.

              • But that’s still not “outing.”

                My point is that whether or not Clementi killed himself because of what Ravi did is not provable in a court of law. Perhaps Clementi killed himself because his lover broke up with him. Even if he broke up with him because of the webcam, that would not make Ravi responsible for it – nor would it make Clementi’s lover responsible. If Ravi is an adult and responsible for his own actions, so is Clementi. It’s way too dangerous a legal precedent to hold someone else responsible for a person’s suicide.

                • Well he wasn’t charged with being responsible for Clementi’s death.

                  • But that hasn’t stopped some people from saying that he should have been.

                    My first visceral reaction when I heard about it is that he should have been charged with manslaughter, but upon reflection I think that would set a bad precedent.

                    • GirlGlad4TheGMP says:

                      And he shouldn’t have been. He did not cause Clemeti’s death. I’m not saying he shouldn’t be wracked with guilt or be shunned by the people, or judged by a higher power or whatever. I’m saying that, if we are making the point of making Ravi culpable for his actions because he was an adult, we should do the same for Clementi.

                    • Peter Houlihan says:

                      I disagree. While I agree that Ravi didn’t murder Clementi (clearly his death wasn’t his intent). Its certainly possible (and perhaps provable given a sufficiently thorough investigation) that his actions affected Clementi’s (mental) health to the point that he killed himself.

                      Its not like spying on someone via webcam is a normal thing to do the adverse consequences of which aren’t forseeable. Ravi may not have been able to know that what he did would kill Clementi, but he was surely aware it would negatively affect him emotionally.

              • “‘Out’ isn’t a boolean condition. Theres a difference between not hiding your sexuality and having it lampooned on the web.”

                I’ve found that a lot of people have great difficulty understanding this. The other thing people often have a big problem understanding is that once your ‘out’ it doesn’t mean that suddenly everyone knows. Every time you meet a new person you have to decide whether you’re going to come out or not, and when, and how.

                Perhaps the media discussion around this case should have been more explicit in explaining what people knew about Clementi’s sexuality…but really we just don’t have accurate enough language or social discourse to expect the media to explain this aspect of the case effectively. Mainstream society talks about someone being ‘out’ or ‘in the closet,’ but fails to take into account the various layers of being out or in.

                So I’m in agreement with Peter, here, Clementi might have been ‘out’ but that doesn’t mean he was ready for that information to be put online so that the entire world had access to it.

                • Actually, according to the New Yorker he was *more* out online. One of the themes of the New Yorker article is that Clementi was somewhat naive about the internet. There’s an undercurrent in the story that Ravi disliked Clementi because of his lack of sophistication about the internet (the kind of attitude that some people have that those who are hacked “deserve it” because they don’t have good passwords, for example).

                  Which again is why I’m squeamish about the idea of hate crime legislation in general and especially in this case. There was a lot more going on than just “ew, he’s gay.” Yes, that was part of it, but there were many issues going on here.

                  • “Yes, that was part of it, but there were many issues going on here.”

                    But see I’m of the opinion that if it was part of it, than a hate crime was committed. If a group of thugs beat up a gay guy because he was gay, but also took his cash…it’s still a hate crime. It’s also a mugging…but just because it’s a mugging doesn’t mean it’s not also a hate crime. (That’s a simpler example than this, I know…but I’m just using it to illustrate a point).

                    As for Clementi being ‘more out’ online…if he was also naive about it, then Ravi was still outing him more than he wanted. I am also unsure of whether Ravi should be have been charged with manslaughter (because the motivations for a suicide are so freaking complicated)…but I am not unsure of whether he should have been charged with a hate crime.

                    • Let me put it this way: Clementi laughed at a friend’s reaction that Ravi’s actions should be considered a hate crime.

                      It is, of course, impossible to speculate on what was going through Ravi’s mind, but the evidence in the article to me says that Ravi disliked Clementi for a variety of reasons, and I have a feeling that indeed if Clementi was straight but everything else remained the same that he would have tried to bully him.

                      I’m not trying to say that homophobic bullying doesn’t exist. However, bullying is much more complex than that.

                  • Peter Houlihan says:

                    In what venues. Its not like the web is a uniform forum. I’m out as a BDSM practitioner on fetlife, not so much on facebook.

                • Actually, I’m a bi male who is out to some but not to others, so believe me I do understand this. Which is precisely why I think the idea that Clementi killed himself because he was outed is simplistic and ultimately irrelevant to the real issue, which was Ravi’s violation of his privacy.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Heather. Self-righteousness in this case manifested itself in a pile on. Davi is an asshole. But, as with other high-profile cases, if you can’t get him for what really pisses you off, there’s the ancillary stuff. Something. Anything. The coverup. Dueling memories–Scooter Libby. Something. Eventually, it looks kind of pathetic. We got this guy for hindering arrest!!!!! What, was late turning himself in? Didn’t unlock the door fast enough? Witness tampering? He might have been doing it with all the smoothness of a mafia consigliere, or he might have been a panicked kid who didn’t know who not to talk to about it before he lawyered up.
    So the fact that he wasn’t prosecuted for outing anybody is an unfortunate omission–that people regret, I am sure–due to inconvenient laws. But they GOT HIM for something.
    I suspect most of us have an accumulation of distress which might manifest itself in an unfortunate way. But we should hold it in. For appropriate times.
    And of course it’s self-righteousness. Your description of the situation would do for a dictionary.

    This case leaves the possibility that it might be stretched to criminalize outing somebody.

    • No, for deleting the tweets and messages where he invited a ton of people to watch his roommate have sex… Those messages were evidence and he tried to destroy them.

      He SHOULD be punished for every single thing he can be. That’s the right of the judicial system to do.

      If you don’t commit the crime, you theoretically won’t be found guilty. If he had been a moral human being with a trace of empathy, he wouldn’t be in this position. He deserves everything he gets.

      • Peter Houlihan says:

        I agree, but just indidentally, there were tweets involved in the Assange case which were deleted by one of his accusers. Do you think she should be similarly charged? (I recognise that Swedish Law is completely different, I’m just wondering how you think it compares morally.)

        • GirlGlad4TheGMP says:

          I know you asked Joanna the question, but I’m going to chime in for a sec. Yes. She should be charged. For or against, if it was evidence, then she should be charged for tampering with it. I think it’s pretty back and white.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Heather. Thanks for the homework. So we can agree that outing somebody who commits suicide should be a crime? Like in this case.

    • Eric Henney says:

      For the record, and I know this is hard a separation to make, we should try to keep the discussion about Ravi’s case distinct from the discussion about Clementi’s suicide. The facts from each event overlap heavily, but they are not synonymous. Dharun Ravi is not on trial for the death of Tyler Clementi, nor has he been convicted on such terms.

      That said, it strikes me as reckless to assert that Tyler Clementi’s death is somehow unique. It’s true that reliable statistics on the number of gay teen suicides have proven elusive, which you can read about here (http://www.livescience.com/8734-gay-teen-suicide-epidemic.html) and here (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130732158). But there have been separate studies which substantiate the claim that gay teens are bullied significantly more than straight teens, which you can read about here (http://www.livescience.com/6048-gay-lesbian-teens-bullied-heterosexuals.html). Some of these teens do commit suicide. So while it may be unfair for the media to play into a gay teen suicide epidemic hysteria, it is equally damaging to pretend that gay teens do not commit suicide because of homophobic bullying.

    • “Like in this case.”

      In this case Ravi was NOT charged with contributing to Clementi’s death. He also was NOT charged with ‘outing’ Clementi. He was charged with violating Clementi’s privacy (because it was recorded), witness tampering, and lying to police. The hate crime element comes from the fact that he was doing it all because Clementi was gay. He wasn’t just video taping any random people…he was specifically committing a crime against Clementi because Clementi was gay. The crimes in this case would have been the same even if Clementi was still alive….perhaps it would not have garnered the same media attention, but the CRIMES would have been the same.

      As for whether outing someone should be a crime…I don’t have an answer for you. Freedom of speech, yes…but outing someone is such a violation of privacy. But Richard, before you say something along the lines of “wipe your chin,” or that forcing someone out of the closet isn’t a big deal…I challenge you to tell one person your gay. (I know it’s not true; that’s not the point). I’m saying go up to a friend or co-worker or something (someone you know really well), and convince that person you are gay…not in a joking way…but actually seriously have a coming out. See what happens, what changes…how people act around you. THEN come back here and say that we should get over it….then come back and suggest it’s “self-righteousness” that fuels the reaction the LGBT community has to cases like this.

      (That last paragraph was a bit ranty…but the idea still stands.)

      • Peter Houlihan says:

        Freedom of speech has (and should have) limits. Even if privacy isn’t breached in order to determine that a person is gay publishing sensitive information about that person should be controlled. I think exceptions can be made where a strong public interest is at stake, but I can’t think of many where that would excuse outing a gay or kinky person. Even if a journalist knew Santorum were gay I’d still argue he should have the right to keep that fact private.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:


    I didn’t restrict my suggestion to a couple of otherwise unattached undergrads.
    One might be married.

    How many gay men commit suicide when outed? This is pretty much a unique case.

    And, yeah, the drooling self-righteousness is obvious.

    There remains the question of whether this case can be stretched to criminalize outing somebody, even if they guy doesn’t kill himself.

    Wipe your chin.

    • “How many gay men commit suicide when outed? This is pretty much a unique case.”

      No. This is not a unique case. This is so far from a unique case, it’s tragic. I don’t have the actual stats on me about LGBT suicide, but it’s really freaking high compared to non-LGBT people…particularly teens. And why is it higher? Because of bullying after coming out, or a fear of bullying after coming out.

      We can discuss the finer points of whether Ravi committed a hate crime, and I can see the argument to be made that he didn’t. I don’t agree with it, but I can see that argument. But, do not…do NOT suggest that this is somehow a unique event.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    The guy’s an asshole. Whether his actions merit such criminal accusations is another question.
    As i said in a related thread, this could be stretched to outing somebody.
    Then what?
    There’s no reason this prank couldn’t have been pulled on a straight guy, and if the guy later killed himself, what then?
    IMO, this guy got the accumulation of self-righteousness aimed at all homophobes. At last we got one we can hammer.

    • “There’s no reason this prank couldn’t have been pulled on a straight guy.”

      Except that the purpose of the prank wasn’t just to catch a guy having sex…the purpose was to spread images of a guy having sex with another guy. If this prank were pulled on a straight guy, the gender of the people involved wouldn’t have been a factor in the bullying.

    • Michael Rowe says:

      How interesting, Richard. You know a lot of young straight men who would kill themselves if they were shown to be having sex with women, do you? Furthermore, straight men who had to keep their sexuality a secret, because could be made a laughingstock if they were shown to be straight? Drop us a postcard from the planet you live on. We’ll lay all our “self righteousness” aside for a moment of silent and enjoy it.

      • Embarrassing someone even to the point they kill themselves is not in and of itself a crime even if you did it because you hate homosexuals. It seems like the desire here is to use the law to punish someone based on political correctness. Ravi is an adult guilty of only one single crime and that is recording his room-mate having sex. I think the fact that the room-mate then killed himself is irrelevant as is the fact that he targeted his room-mate because he is gay.

        And although a straight man cannot be embarassed in this way…a straight woman can be and have been. The guy got sentenced to 12 weekends in county prison and 3 year probation for a similar crime.

        • Peter Houlihan says:

          “Embarrassing someone even to the point they kill themselves is not in and of itself a crime even if you did it because you hate homosexuals”

          If its not it should be. This kind of breach of privacy shouldn’t be tolerated for anyone and bullying someone to the point that they kill themselves isn’t a crime??

          • No, because you are making the bully responsible for the suicidal person’s actions, which they cannot be. Suicide is an autonomous action.

        • Peter Houlihan says:

          Also, straight men can be. Although he didn’t kill himself just look at what happened to Max Mosley. Invading someones privacy and publicising it is very much a criminal action.

      • If it happened to a straight man it would be just as much an invasion of their privacy, which is what Ravi was found guilty of.

  8. Michael Rowe says:

    This is probably the smartest and most honest piece on the Ravi case I’ve read so far, Kudos.


  1. […] obviously not, so that hurt a little). However, in the case of bullying and hate-speech online in cases like Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after his roommate secretly filmed and distributed footage of Clementi during a […]

  2. […] a misandrist (that hurt a little). However, in the case of bullying and hate-speech online in cases like Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after his roommate secretly filmed and distributed footage of Clementi during a […]

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