Secret taping leads roommate to suicide

Last week a freshman at Rutgers took his own life after learning that his roommate had taped the student's romantic encounter with another boy.

  • Tyler Clementi, an honors student and musician, asked his roommate Dharun Ravi to allow him private time in the room.
  • Dharun, who had not been getting along with Tyler, reacted by secretly taping Tyler's romantic moments with a guy and posting it on the internet.
  • Dharun also tweeted the video link.
  • Molly Wei, Dharun's friend and classmate, was also involved in the plot.
  • After Tyler discovered that Dharun's friends had all seen this video (and that Dharun had planned for another taping), he was humiliated.
  • An anonymous post in an online gay forum matches the timeline of Tyler's struggle. The writer describes his roommate's harassment and conflict of him, and his attempt to right the wrong.
  • Tyler informed the university, who turned the issue over to authorities.
  • The student requested a room change. That room change had not happened at the time of his death.
  • Tyler then changed his Facebook status to say that he was about to take his life.
  • The two surviving students are being prosecuted by the police, and face up to five years in prison.
  • Tyler's family is very distraught, and the gay rights group Garden State Equality is calling the episode a hate crime.

Is this prank truly anti-LGBT? Friends have described Dharun as a good person, that he wasn't anti-LGBT. What if Tyler had met up with a girl?

The issue that seems even more pressing is cyberbullying -- abusing people's privacy for the sake of internet entertainment. College is a scary time with several adjustments. Your roommate is most likely a stranger that quickly sees most of your private life. Are decency and respect for others dead?

What might surprise you

The Trevor Project told DoSomething.org that when a person is bullied, he or she is twice as likely to attempt suicide than someone who was not bullied.

The death occurred just one week before the university kicked off its campaign to teach civility, especially when using technology.

There is a market for anonymous bullying. While Facebook and Twitter are linked to the user, gossip forums don't trace back to the author. For example, Juicy Campus was such a popular site to violate classmates that it spread to 500 colleges before shutting down. Since Juicy's downfall, similarly gossip-filled CollegeACB has increased in users.

While privacy methods on Facebook and other sites have increased, there is debate on whether online bullying has decreased. Most of the time an embarrassing or sexual photo is leaked by a former friend or bf/gf, but 29% of young people share a picture or video with someone they only know from the internet.

The death is one of four LGBT related student suicides that have occurred this week, all from different parts of the country. Is bullying preventable or is it too far embedded in our culture?

What can you do?

People who can easily recall where to get suicide prevention resources are more likely to seek them out. Make sure you promote mental health counselors, programs, and hotlines. Drill it into your classmates' brains.

Encourage your campus to take positive steps toward mental health. Petition for the tech office to block gossip websites. Write to the President encouraging safer railings and balcony restrictions.

Are you reaching out to others you see struggling? A Facebook status or a negative comment can be a cry for help.

No matter how different, roommates can get along. Create an agreement between you and your roommate to sign. Include things like if you can share food, borrow clothes, or invite friends over at certain times.

Bullying via the internet is more common than you think. Let people at your school know that cyberbullying can get you in trouble with school and with the law.