17 March 2012

Darun Rhavi's Crime

The debate continues, and will most likely continue, about Dharun Ravi's conviction yesterday.  Whether or not you think that he is responsible for Tyler Clementi's suicide, it's hard not to characterize what Ravi did to Clementi as bullying. 

What is bullying?  To me, it's when someone uses an advantage he or she has to intimidate or harass someone else.  Most people thinking of the big, brutish (or simply pyschopathic) kid in the schoolyard preying on someone who's smaller, weaker, gentler, more soft-spoken or simply pusillanimous.  Of course, that scenario did not transpire between Ravi and Clementi.  However, Ravi used three advantages (at least in terms of life in this society) to intimidate and harass Clementi.

The first was his webcam.  Now, Clementi may well have owned one and could have set it up as Ravi did.  However, I doubt that Clementi would have thought to set up a webcam on Ravi, or anyone else, as he was about to have an intimate encounter with his boyfriend. So, the fact that Ravi had a webcam and was in a state of mind to use it as he did put him in a position of power, vis-a-vis Clementi.

The second advantage Ravi had--at least in terms of the situation between him and Clementi--was a personality that others described as loud, brash and bombastic.  Clementi, on the other hand, was said to be quiet and reserved, and not the type to fight back.  People--especially young ones--with personalities like Ravi's prey upon personalities like Clementi's all of the time.

Third, and perhaps most important, is that Ravi was (presumably) straight. So were his friends.  A gay person can't make a spectacle out of someone having heterosexual relations because it is highly unlikely that someone would lose
"face" (save, perhaps, among the most radical of queers), not to mention a job or an apartment, if he were "outed" as straight.  In contrast, even in this more "tolerant" world, LGBT people still face discrimination and the threat of violence if their identities are known.

So, whatever you think of the trial, it's hard to deny that Ravi bullied Clementi.  Unfortuantely, some in law enforcement seem ignorant of antbullying laws, or simply not interested in enforcing them.  And so there will be more bullying.


Debbie B. said...

In my opinion I feel that Rhavi's sentence was too light! Setting an example due to bias crimes certainly doesn't warrant a slap on the wrist like this. I feel he should've received a minimum of 5 years in prison, at least a $20,000fine, and 6 years probation.

Justine Valinotti said...

Debbie: I agree that his sentence was too light. Very few would argue that what Ravi did was wrong, and many (I include myself) believe it contributed to Clementi committing suicide.

However, as much as I would have liked to see a harsher sentence, I can understand why it wasn't imposed. As terrible as what Ravi did was, it didn't clearly fit any legal definition of any particular crime. Imposing a harsh sentence for a crime that isn't clearly defined is asking for a declaration of a mistrial or for a ruling to be overturned. Judges usually try to avoid such things, for obvious reasons.