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YouSpeak: Is the Rutgers Case a Hate Crime?

Court decision could broaden definition


On March 16 former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi was convicted on charges of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation after he used a webcam in September 2010 to spy on his roommate, Tyler Clementi, having sex with another man, and then invited others to watch the feed. Clementi committed suicide three days after classmates viewed the video.

The case drew national headlines. Prosecutors, who said Ravi had targeted Clementi specifically because he was gay, argued that this was a classic case of bias intimidation and a hate crime. Others say that it wasn’t a typical case of bias intimidation and that the defendant was the victim of an overzealous prosecutor. After three days of deliberation, the jury found Ravi guilty on each of the 15 counts he faced, including 4 counts of bias intimidation. The two most serious counts each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. (Ravi, who was born in India, could also face deportation, since he is not a U.S. citizen.) He is to be sentenced on May 21.

The jury’s decision is expected to significantly broaden the definition of what constitutes a hate crime.

What do you think? This week’s “YouSpeak” asks: “Is secretly taping your gay roommate having sex a hate crime?”

YouSpeak” typically appears each Monday.

If you have a suggestion for a question we should ask, post it in the comments section below.

Devin Hahn, Producer/Editor, BU Today, Bostonia, Boston University
Devin Hahn

Devin Hahn can be reached at dhahn@bu.edu.

25 Comments on YouSpeak: Is the Rutgers Case a Hate Crime?

  • What happened to all men are created equal? on 03.26.2012 at 6:40 am

    It is truly unfortunate that America has deteriorated to the point where a crime against a specific special type of person is worse than the same crime perpetrated against someone not deemed to be special. Domestic violence laws, hate crime laws, etc. just serve to further divide rather than unite us by placing a different value on the life of one type of person versus another. The crime in the case in point was the same no matter who the victim was. The victim’s gender. age, sexual preference skin color etc. should therefore be irrelevant. But thanks to the lobbying efforts of special interest groups we now have all kinds of crimes defying the notion of American citizens being equal in the eyes of the law. We are now only equal when it serves the needs of the special interest groups………..when it does not, then we are unequal and, what is worse, they are entitled to special treatment and protections by special laws. We cannot be equal and all have the same rights if we are not subjected to the same laws and risks in life. If the law can punish one man differently because another man is different then those two men are no longer legally equal and by logical extension no longer enjoy the same rights as guaranteed by our constitution. This is just one more example of bad policy and bad case law that sadly will be followed by years if stare decisis by well meaning politically correct cowards.

    • John Burns on 03.26.2012 at 11:20 am

      The “special interest group” in this case was a human being who was harassed and had their personal rights infringed because the perpetrator targeted them for their sexuality.

      • What happened to all men are created equal? on 03.26.2012 at 10:01 pm

        What difference does it make if he was gay? Why do you the need to define this human being based on his sexuality? Do you believe gay human beings are different and therefore deserving of special protections? I thought the gay people wanted to treated like everybody else or does that only apply when it is convenient?

        • why do we choose to hate on 03.27.2012 at 8:09 am

          it is simply because the crime seems to have been committed based on the fact that he was gay. that is curious don’t you see? the issue of him being gay becomes central to the point. special interest groups exist because they are special, without them more harm would be done and what is the good in that? maybe one day in a idealland this will change but for now we have to address the people that choose to let the anger in them drive them to this point

          • Ben on 04.05.2012 at 1:10 am

            So is there a special privilege for dorks? People are picked on because they are dorks, so maybe they should be treated as a special class.

  • GS on 03.26.2012 at 6:41 am

    I truly believe that this case, in many ways, bifurcated early on into two separate and distinct matters. What was basically an invasion of privacy case caught the eyes and ears of the people because certain celebrities embraced it (inappropriately really) as a hate crime and made it a cause de jour. That’s not to say that it wasn’t terrible … a young person died and lives all around will be forever altered. It was startling and it was devastating at the same time … but, it wasn’t a hate crime as we’ve come to define such.

    This case was a classic ‘invasion of privacy’ matter. We’ve been seeing and reading about these for years now … from the lurid bedroom cases where cameras and sound equipment are hidden to catch someone in the act, to motel rooms (one of the most famous recent instances involving Erin Andrews), to misguided school districts which put webcams into laptop computers which they then lent to students to take home (but also allowed for them to peek at the same time) … to bathrooms, boardrooms and a host of other places all over the country. Whole ‘reality television’ shows are based on the same basic premise. The facts generally play the same way … someone puts audio or video recording equipment in a very intrusive place unbeknownst to someone else with the (broadly speaking) sole intent of gathering embarrassing or damning (or at a minimum embarrassing) information … it could be called spying but we’ve defaulted to invasion of privacy. It has reached an epidemic stage in many ways – and really needs to stop!

    A hate crime on the other hand is in so many ways different and generally needs to involve some form of violence, either implicitly or directly. From dragging another human being behind a car because he’s black, targeting and killing because someone might be of Arabic descent (recently in CA), or just simply causing harm to someone else because of race, color or creed … these too have been happening for years and you, very frankly, just know one when you see one! They are just simply shameful and abhorrent acts which always cause that special pause and need for a parent to take a deep breath when asked by a child … gee Dad, why did that person do that?

    Attempting to connect the dots in this matter simply dilutes the public perception of hate crimes – which is something we shouldn’t allow to happen. This WAS a terrible incident, and the outcome WAS truly devastating, but was it a hate crime … I just don’t think so.


    • What happened to all men are created equal? on 03.27.2012 at 12:26 pm

      You really do not get it do you? This failure to apply logic is what is fundamentally wrong with your argument. How can we all be equal if some of us are special? I am sorry but you cannot logically have it both ways; you are either equal or you are not. You cannot apply the law differently to one group of people. On the contrary, if the persons uniqueness makes them more vulnerable and the net result is greater harm than the law must be applied based on the level of harm incurred as a result of the greater vulnerability; again not via application of special law based on a specific type of person being special per se and therefore entitled to special protections with special punishments of the perpetrator.

      Secondly who defines who is special and what makes them special? If so maybe I should declare myself special. If I were special and offered up the same opinions would that make them more meritorious?

      Finally, your title strikes me as grotesque and compels me to say that if you really think my argument reflects the fact I choose to hate you seriously need to reread everything I have written with a more open logical unemotional mind.

      • GS on 03.28.2012 at 5:19 am

        You can’t possibly be referring to what I wrote …

        • What happened to all men are created equal? on 03.28.2012 at 10:50 pm

          No I was not referring to what you…………I do not know how that happened.

  • Sam Stone on 03.26.2012 at 7:19 am

    Ravi will be deported… and that punishment likely fits the crime; which any time in prison does not. Ravi’s actions were reprehensible but Clementi had other issues that Ravi was not responsible for, including his suicide. The prosecuters stereotypically over-reached and the jury over-reacted, making the case a travesty of both crime & punishment.

  • Mike on 03.26.2012 at 8:00 am

    “Is secretly taping your gay roommate having sex a hate crime?”

    Mr. Ravi did not record any video as the question may imply.

    I was totally on the prosecution’s side before, but now, I’m on Mr. Ravi’s side after seeing his interview with 20/20.

    The show highlighted the all the false information given by “news” sources through the case and just how fast all the tragic events occurred. Mr. Clementi never confronted Mr. Ravi about his actions; the only person it seems he reached out to was his RA, who possibly could have done more. I’m not trying to blame the victim, but as someone who has experienced depression and suicidal thoughts, sometimes, the slightest things can trigger those thoughts (or actual action in this case).

    Just how old was the man who Mr. Clementi invited over? How many of you would not be weirded out or thought it was sketchy if your rooommate invited over someone in their late 30’s to early 50’s to hook up with?

    What speaks the most is Mr. Ravi’s refusal to accept the plea bargain offered – no prison, just community service, if he admitted to hating gays. He refused because he would not admit to something he did not believe.

  • Penny on 03.26.2012 at 8:47 am

    I have not seen any interviews or news coverage of this until now, so my main question is WHY Mr. Ravi recorded his roommate’s actions. My layman’s understanding of a hate crime is that it is step 1: a crime and step 2: that is committed specifically because of someone’s orientation, race, etc. Would Mr. Ravi have recorded his roommate’s sexual activities with a woman? I’m sure it’s been done, as referenced by GS above, but it certainly raises a question in my mind.

    I do believe in the hate crimes statute because I think that crimes perpetrated due to hatred of a certain group are particularly dangerous to our civil society. Although I know that this is not a justifiable reason, I also am glad that these crimes have an opportunity to be called what they are, for otherwise certain groups would suffer in silence, and our awareness of the continuing challenges of discrimination in the U.S. would be diminished.

  • Kiran Bery on 03.26.2012 at 9:32 am

    I do not agree with the desion. This was not at all a hate crime

  • Mya on 03.26.2012 at 10:58 am

    I don’t know if it was a hate crime more than it was stalking. This Ravi needs to be put in jail (or sent back home) as a sick perv, not a hater. Taping his roomate having sex? Seriously, orientation is not even relevant. The fact that he invaded his roomate private life in such a crude way is just disgusting. As for poor Tyler, he could have gone about things differently that is a given, but his suicide should not be blamed on Ravi.

  • John Burns on 03.26.2012 at 11:12 am


  • Ricky on 03.26.2012 at 11:40 am

    Ravi is responsible for sure (if he did it) to have recorded the video and showed it to other people, which is a cruel violation of privacy. I think we all want to feel free to have sex with whomever you want, and in any way you want, without being spied on and/or rejected by society because of sexual practices that should remain private.
    After an action, a reaction follows, and sometimes we underestimate or do not really think about the consequences. I do not know if this is a hate crime, but not to think about the consequences of an action (even the most serious) is certainly a sin. And I also do believe that there must be judgments that should work as an example to all those people who are going to do something similar.

  • SLG on 03.26.2012 at 11:51 am

    Whether or not this was a hate crime, this comment: “Domestic violence laws, hate crime laws, etc. just serve to further divide rather than unite us by placing a different value on the life of one type of person versus another” is extremely ignorant.

    Hate crimes do NOT make certain groups of people “special” and “worth more” to society. The reason there are hate crime laws and specific laws for domestic abuse (where women are disproportionately the victim) is because our CULTURE already deems some groups of people to be WORTH LESS than others. These laws are trying to rectify already existing inequalities. Look up violence rates AGAINST these ‘protected, special’ groups and you will see that they are in dire need of these laws. One in five women in America will be sexually assaulted or raped in her life. Just by being racialized as Black in America (yes this is checked against socioeconomic status, too) you are more likely to die a violent death. Violence against people who are LGBQ and especially against transwomen are disproportionately high when compared to the rest of the ‘unspecial’ population.

    So please do not come onto a forum in the wake of Trayvon Martin and the tragic patterns of bullying and suicide we’ve seen among LGBTQ teens and young adults and proclaim that hate crime laws are the real problem. That is a callous and oblivious statement to make.

    As for the specific question of this article, hate crimes are already notoriously HARD to prosecute (you basically have to prove that they had hateful thoughts against a marginalized person as such), so I would not mind a widening of the law to reflect to actual nature of prejudice and the -isms (heteronormativity, racism, sexism, etc.)

    However, along with this broadening must come the realization that it is not only “bigots” who commit hate crimes. (Jay Smooth’s video is a nice place to start on this concept: http://www.illdoctrine.com/2011/11/my_tedx_talk_how_i_stopped_wor.html) You might think you are the least discriminatory person in the world and yet you can harbor implicit biases that will make your blood run cold. So yes, invading someone’s privacy to humiliate and intimidate them because they are gay should be a hate crime–however, we have to partly re-conceive what a hate crime is.

    • jessica on 03.26.2012 at 4:00 pm

      Yes. Exactly.

  • Nate Suri on 03.26.2012 at 1:59 pm

    I’m a New Jersey resident who was aware of this case immediately after it happened. Although I knew no body at Rutgers at the time, this incident was the topic of discussion at every NJ high school lunch table. And although I believe Ravi should be jailed for invasion of privacy (and more so if the act is deemed hateful) there is a striking inaccuracy in your BU “YouSpeak” question – Tyler Clementi was never filmed having sex. Ravi’s intent was to film Clementi having sex during the second recording but that never transpired, and the media shouldn’t judge a man on what he didn’t do.

  • Victor47 on 03.26.2012 at 8:38 pm

    First of all, it is important to get your facts straight. There was no taping. There was no uploading or broadcast. The viewing by Dharun lasted 2-3 seconds; someone else turned it on again for a few seconds.

    Also remember the context. Dharun was sexiled Three times in seven days by a room-mate who did not even introduce his partner, a 30 year old off-campus man who pretended to be in the mid-20s.

    Clearly Dharun was coming to terms with the idea of gay sex in his room; he was also enjoying the attention it was generating among his peers. It is clear that Tyler was in complete control of the situation when it comes to Ravi. If he had not committed suicide, his reaction would have been cited by LBG support groups on how to deal with a jerk room-mate.

    To call it a hate-crime is absolutely ridiculous and opens up a can of worms. Any conflict can now be upgraded to the charge of a hate-crime. This case will ensure that parents do not allow their straight children to room with gay room-mates.

  • Mr. Kabukiman on 03.27.2012 at 10:47 am

    Send this kid back home
    No place for this in US
    Wake up, everyone

  • Amy on 03.28.2012 at 2:00 pm

    “It is truly unfortunate that America has deteriorated to the point where a crime against a specific special type of person is worse than the same crime perpetrated against someone not deemed to be special.”

    For decades, a man who beat up another man (unless in self defense) was deemed to have committed a crime. A man who beat up his wife, a white man who beat up a black man, or a straight man who beat up a homosexual, were NOT necessarily charged with a crime, as husbands HAD the right to physically “discipline” their wives, and as many people looked the other way when blacks or gays were attacked. The law addressed all of this by speaking clearly of attacks and discrimination against people in relation to their race, gender, or sexual orientation. This doesn’t make these groups “special”. It does accord them dignity, which many “non-special” Americans would deny them. If general laws had been applied to all, equally, this wouldn’t be the case, but they were not equally applied. With generally worded laws came the notion, held by some, that THEY (white, male, or straight) were withing their rights to act as they did, and that God or society smiled on them with special favor, because they were “normal” or in “the majority”.

    • What happened to all men are created equal? on 03.28.2012 at 11:00 pm

      Oh please you really do not think I am that naive do you? Men who beat their wives have been and can be dealt with without the need to define the woman per se as special class of people by simply applying the law equally to all and enforcing it. For some reason you feel the need to segregate and vilify people. Again all men cannot be equal under your legal interpretation. But sadly and ironically if they are not equal they cannot be afforded equal protection and rights under the law by logical extension. This policy creates a slippery slope that leads to a more divided rather than a more tolerant society.

  • Suicide is Self-Imposed Murder. on 08.27.2012 at 10:18 pm

    I think that yes, cyber bullying is terrible. But can this kid be blamed for someone’s suicide? Suicide is a pretty complicated thing that arises out of a lot of pressure, different conditions, etc. Whether the suicide victim had a good family that was supporting him for being gay or did he have unsupportive parents?? The big blame that the law is imposing on this young man for ten years in prison is a very blind sentence. It seems like their just trying to sweep a quick brush of punishment on this guys life then really getting to the issue or reason for the homosexual’s suicide.

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