On Wednesday, police found the body of 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi one week after he killed himself following his roommate posting a video online of Clementi having a sexual encounter with another man.
Authorities believe that Clementi leapt from the George Washington Bridge in New York after his roommate secretly taped him and then posted the footage on the Internet.
Clementi’s roommate Dharan Ravi and Ravi’s childhood friend Molly Wei are each facing two counts of invasion of privacy and could spend up to five years in prison if they are convicted of distributing sexual images without consent. Ravi allegedly posted a live feed of Clementi on Skype, according to target="_blank">CBS News, and boasted about it on Twitter.
“Roommate asked for the room till midnight,” Ravi, 18, tweeted on September 19. “I went into Molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Ravi is also alleged to have tried to broadcast a second encounter a few days later.
Investigators do not know how many people saw the feed or if Clementi had other issues that may have contributed to his despondency, but he clearly was upset by something. Before his death, he wrote on his Facebook page, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”
At press time, nearly 35,000 people had subscribed to a Facebook page in Clementi’s honor, leaving thousands of comments about his death and the circumstances surrounding it. “I only hope your tragic passing is a wake up call across the globe so that nobody else’s life is curtailed through the hatred and ignorance of others,” one user wrote on the page’s wall.
Clementi’s death is the latest incident to reveal the dangers of cyberbullying and the consequences of using wired means to taunt. target="_blank">ABC News reported that Clementi complained to his resident advisor and other university officials about Ravi allegedly livestreaming video of Clementi having a sexual encounter with a male classmate earlier this month. A university spokesperson said the information was turned over to local authorities.
His death comes as a rash of bullying-related suicides has made the news. target="_blank">Minnesota Public Radio reports that seven teenagers in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, one of Minnesota’s largest school districts, have taken their lives over the past year. Administrators are concerned that bullying, cyber or otherwise, may have played a part in the incidents, at least two of which involved gay students who’d allegedly been harassed or bullied at school as a result of their sexuality.
In Tehachapi, California, 13-year-old Seth Walsh died on Tuesday, several days after trying to hang himself from a tree in his backyard following years of taunting over his sexual orientation. Less than a week earlier, 13-year-old Texas teen Asher Brown shot himself to death after enduring bullying over his small stature, his religion and, possibly, his sexual orientation, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Gay activists and “Savage Love” columnist Dan Savage launched a new YouTube channel called “It Gets Better.” The channel gives positive examples of gay adults living their lives after suffering serious bullying in their youths in order to give hope to GLBT teens who may be struggling with abuse from their peers. Gay children are four times more likely than their straight peers to commit suicide and nine out of ten gay kids say they have been the victims of bullies at some point in their lives.
Since launching on September 15, the “It Gets Better” channel has had nearly 500,000 views.