This week I read in horror about Rutgers student Tyler Clementi’s suicide after his roommate secretly video-taped his sexual encounter with another man. The two suspects are now being charged with invasion of privacy with the most serious charges carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison. Authorities are also considering bringing hate crimes charges against them.
Legal experts, psychologists and even former NJ Governor Jim McGreevey have been speaking out about this tragedy and the challenges of young, gay students. On the other side, homophobic and racist comments have been posted thanking the suspects for their possible role in a gay man’s death.
I fear that the underlying problem will get lost in the rhetoric about this being a gay issue. This isn’t about gay or straight. This is about one young man feeling so helpless against the bullying he knew would happen once private images of him were sent far and wide across the Internet that he had no choice but to kill himself.
There is no doubt that this is a tragic case but pretend for a moment that this was a young girl who had been secretly videotaped having sex with her boyfriend. And, after it was spread across the internet she was inundated with texts and posts either calling her a slut or being chased after by perverts. This fictitious young girl ended up feeling so desperate, ashamed and lonely that she kills herself. More than likely in this scenario it would be a huge local story, perhaps for five minutes it would be a national story. But then, this poor girl and her sad case would become invisible and her parents would be left to grieve in silence.
Tyler Clementi’s is dead because he was bullied – plain and simple. Gay or straight, Christian or Jew, black or white, our kids are being bullied every day and now, with the internet thousands more are piling on to perpetuate this abuse. Our kids feel they have nowhere to turn, no safe haven. We teach silly rules such as always keep the computer in a common area of the house. That certainly doesn’t do any good once they’re off to college. While we need to keep teaching our kids that bullies are insecure cowards and idiots who might consider what they’re doing “a prank,” it’s about time we send a serious message to all bullies – you will be suspended and you will be imprisoned. We’re trying to teach tolerance and that doesn’t seem to work (especially when they learn intolerance from their parents.) Bullies are killing are kids and it’s about time they face charges just like any other murderer.
Alison Rhodes is the founder of Safety Mom Enterprises and Safety Mom Solutions, the premier baby proofing and child safety company in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. Alison is a family safety expert, TV personality and consultant.