Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Right to Privacy

Recent local tragic events have become news nationally.

In the third week in September, a Rutgers freshman set up a webcam to secretly broadcast his roommate as he engaged in an intimate encounter. The individual who perpetrated this invasion of privacy has subsequently been quoted through his Twitter account, several times making much of the fact that his roommate was apparently gay. The screen shots of his Twitter page reproduced in the media reveal a vulgar, self absorbed young man. I suppose not too different from many adolescents.

Unfortunately, in this case, his arrogance and homophobia precipitated a crisis for the boy he so cruelly humiliated. He could not have known that it would have fatal consequences, but it did. There is no way to change the fact that it caused the other boy to jump to his death from the George Washington Bridge. He was 18 years old.

I am not going to repeat this boy’s name. It is the subject of headlines, news stories, vigils and water cooler conversation all over the country. It has become a rallying cry for tolerance and understanding. And none of us have any right to it.

This was a private individual whose most personal moments were broadcast over the Internet without his knowledge. He found this so unbearable he felt he could not live with it. How awful it is that after his death, when he is utterly defenseless, his name is common knowledge and has been repeated incessantly by the media?

A true travesty occurred Saturday at the Rutgers homecoming game. The boy who died was, by all accounts, a sweet, sensitive violin player. Again, a private person. And yet he was ‘honored’ at a football game of all things, his name displayed prominently, an awkward moment of silence required before the swilling of beer and hot dogs. Scarcely an honor. I have a sense this child would have been mortified.

Our society cannot tolerate treating each other in the way this boy was treated. Our children have to be taught that at home. It needs to be reinforced at school. But even now I see only lip service from Rutgers. A football game?!?! This choice, in the worst possible taste as far as I’m concerned, is a classic case of too much, too late. It is crucial to address the issue of bigotry and bullying in a meaningful way. This was not it.

They have it so wrong I despair for them getting it right. From the shenanigans of the university president to out of control frats, Rutgers has a notorious reputation for looking the other way when the subject is painful or inconvenient. Only the administration at this school would find a football game the appropriate venue to memorialize a violinist.

This heartbreaking incident is a perfect object lesson for what needs to change in our society. But it needs to be a lesson about the thousands of anonymous children and adults who are harassed every day, not just about this one quiet boy. One quiet boy who never asked to become an icon. One quiet boy who found a breach of his privacy so painful it drove him to utter desperation. He never had a chance to grow into himself and will never find out it could have gotten better. In death he deserves the dignity and obscurity he preferred in life.

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Brooke Amanda said...

Wow, I hadn't heard of this story. What is going to happen to the roommate who filmed him? I hope he's being brought up on some sort of criminal charges.

brokenteepee said...

Very well written. Brava

Dana said...

So very well said.

Kathy said...

Beautifully said. I'd thought of it too, the way his name has been plastered all over the place. Couldn't they have given him the privacy he deserves? Alas, the media has no idea how to do that.

Webster said...

It seems to me that the name that should have been put forth is that of those who took the video and out it on the internet. As a matter of fact, I think his picture and that of a girl friend were on the news last night. I think they (or he) will be facing some charges.

Jane Turley said...

I'm afraid to say I read about that story here in the UK too:( I was mortified - I hate invasion of privacy- in particular this kind of thoughtless insensitivity which is extreme. Too many people (especially celebs & politicians) have their personal details, emails etc stolen. It's abhorrent; the law needs to come down tough on the offenders - it's everyone's basic right to retain their privacy.

Well said Marie.

Marie said...

Brooke and Webster: The roommate and another student who apparently was an enthusiastic participant have been indicted on invasion of privacy charges. They could be sent to prison for five years if convicted. The possibility of prosecuting them for a bias crime is being considered. That would double the penalties. Their names and pictures have been published world wide, which I find extremely gratifying. In this article a few friends try to offer half baked defenses:

Pricilla and Dana: Thank you.

Kathy: It makes me sick how he is being used now.

Jane: Absolutely. These two idiots are going to be made an example of and that is exactly how it should be. This type of behavior needs to be reviled. They ruined his life, their lives and horribly impacted three families who wanted nothing but the best for their children.

Thank you all for your thoughtful comments.

cardiogirl said...

Webster took the words right out of my mouth: The person who should be publicized is the guy who made the video and distributed it.

I suppose the coverage is an attempt to stop this sort of behavior but it does seem like they could have kept his name private while still reporting the facts.

Marie said...

Absolutely Cariogirl! I believe he should have been treated with the same respect that is shown to the victims of sexual assault. I consider this to have been a form of sexual assault.

There is nothing newsworthy in his name, just pain for his family.

Anji said...

What a sad world we live in. I hadn't heard about this, your post was well done and tactful.

Myrna R. said...

Marie this was so sensitively and wisely written. Thank you for your voice.

Joanna said...

I have heard about this and I completely agree with you. I didn't know that they had a moment of silence at a football game, that is mean. I can see the roommate being an ass but the girl was high school friends. It's just sad!

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

Wow - when you put it that way, it really is quite disgusting. A poor boy who took his own life because he felt so publicly humiliated is further humiliated by being blatantly publicly "honored".

Well done.

Marie said...

Anji, Myrna, Joanna, NGIP, thank you all for your kind words.

The issue is so important to discuss, but it doesn't have to be with his name attached. Even Ellen jumped on the band wagon. She flat out stated he committed suicide because he was outed, and she gave his name. Now I really, really like Ellen. And I know she has the best intentions.

But one, we do not know for a fact that he chose suicide because he was outed or because the humiliation was enough all by itself. Second, don't compound the situation by giving his name.

He deserves better and so do his poor parents.

Jen said...

I can't add much to this discussion because it has already been said but you did a fine job of hitting the nail on the head of what was wrong with this story from the get go, that the media victimized this boy all over again. And Webster has it right, the names of the two people who took the video and posted it should be plastered all over the football games.

Rachele said...

The poor family of the boy. I mean, really, aren't they the ones who are taking the brunt of this? Let's post the culprits pictures and info all over so even if they are not charged they will have a very difficult time getting into another school and can forget about rewarding careers. Who would ever think that this would be something interesting to post on the internet. I'd like to see an interview with their parents. They must be so proud.

Tarheel Rambler said...

Let me play Devil's Advocate, and argue that the football game was the perfect place for a memorial. Here's why: On a college campus, the one place where the majority of students will gather is at a football game. It was a valuable teachable moment to illustrate the outcomes of bullying and insensitivity.

Had Rutgers scheduled a separate memorial service it would have probably drawn a very small percentage of students. And most likely, they would have been "preaching to the choir." Only the Bi, Gay, Lesbian community would have attended with a small number of supporters.

As it was, a terrible tragedy was brought to the consciousness of a large segment of the student body. Will it make a huge difference? Probably not. But at least a seed was planted.

Very good post on what was a sad event.

Rosemary said...

I've chosen not to read any of the particulars about this event, although I am certainly aware of it. I, too, am appalled at the lack of privacy that seems so common place on the internet today. I agree with your reaction to this sad situation entirely.

Found you on Expose Your Blog.

Marie said...

I thought I had responded to your comments! I must have in my head but never got the words out!

Jen and Rachele: So true about the perpetrators. Things have quieted down over the past week, but there isn't a media outlet in the world that didn't name them and print their pictures. I do feel for their parents. But I certainly feel more for the parents who lost their beloved child.

Tarheel: That is an interesting perspective and I do see your point. I just had the sense that this was a token, that they were papering the campus with his name in a misguided attempt to demonstrate "sensitivity". But you are right, if they reached some kids who wouldn't have gotten the message otherwise, then that is a plus.

DB: It has been hard to read the details and I also have avoided some particulars that seem egregious and I don't need to know.

Thank you all for your comments!