Tyler Clementi was an 18-year old closeted gay freshman at Rutgers University in Piscataway Township, New Jersey who jumped from the George Washington Bridge in an apparent suicide on September 22, 2010, after two of his private sexual encounters were video streamed over the internet without his knowledge. Background
Clementi, from Ridgewood, New Jersey and a graduate of Ridgewood High School, was a talented violinist, having participated in the Bergen Youth Orchestra as concertmaster and the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra.
Clementi had complained to his resident assistant and two other officials that his roommate had spied on his sex life and videostreamed it using a webcam. He wrote in detail on the Just Us Boys message board and Yahoo! message board about complaints he filed through university channels about his roommate.
His posts indicated that he did not want to share a room with Ravi. He claimed to have approached the dorm adviser and asked for a new room after learning about the first violation and then discovering Ravi invited his Twitter followers to watch a second sexual encounter. "He [the resident assistant] seemed to take it seriously," Clementi wrote in a post about 15 hours before his jump from the George Washington Bridge. He said in the posts that he also reported the incident to two unnamed "higher-ups." Clementi's wallet was found on September 22 on the walkway adjacent to the George Washington Bridge's New York-bound lanes after witnesses reported seeing someone jump. His car, cell phone, and computer were also found near the bridge. Police recovered a body on September 29 in the Hudson River just north of the bridge. It was confirmed the next day that the body recovered was that of Clementi.
While it has not yet been determined if Ravi's actions were motivated by Clementi's sexuality, the case has been considered illustrative of suicides among LGBT youth relating to gay bullying or harassment. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network stated "there has been heightened media attention surrounding the suicides in New Jersey, Texas, California, Indiana, and Minnesota." Notably, in the same month, Asher Brown, 13, Billy Lucas, 15, Raymond Chase, 19, and Seth Walsh, 13, committed suicide, in each case allegedly due to being taunted about their homosexuality. Prosecutions
On September 28, 2010, the Middlesex County prosecutor's office stated that Ravi and Wei had been charged with invasion of privacy and transmitting a sexual encounter on the internet in Piscataway committed on September 19. Ravi was also charged on the same counts committed on September 21.
Wei had surrendered to Rutgers police in New Brunswick on September 27, and was released the same day on her own recognizance. Ravi surrendered to Rutgers police on September 28 and was released on a $25,000 bail. Prosecutors are considering whether to add bias intimidation charges as well, which would be tied to the invasion of privacy charges and could double the amount of potential prison time served by Ravi and Wei to 10 years.
It is a fourth degree crime in New Jersey to collect or view images depicting nudity or sexual contact involving another individual without that person’s consent; it is a third degree crime to transmit or distribute such images. The penalty for conviction of a third degree offense can include a prison term of up to five years. Recording a student on Rutgers campus property without their knowledge is a violation of the school's student code of conduct, and Ravi and Wei face the possibility of expulsion.
On October 4, the prosecutor in the case, Bruce Kaplan stated that he did not think there would be enough evidence to charge Ravi and Wei with a hate crime. On October 5, Wei's attorneys, Rubin Sinins and Eric Kahn, released a statement stating her innocence. Former New Jersey federal prosecutor, Henry Klingeman, commented that "There’s no evidence of Ms. Wei doing anything. I'm very curious as to why the prosecutor is holding her responsible in any way shape or form simply because Mr. Ravi was using her computer."
On October 31, further statements were released by the legal defence teams. Steve Altman, Ravi’s attorney stated "Nothing was transmitted beyond one computer and what was seen was only viewed for a matter of seconds." Rubin Sinins, Wei’s attorney, stated "I’m unaware of any evidence of sexual contact. The statute defining sexual contact refers to nudity and private parts, and, to my knowledge, nothing like that was seen. I’m also unaware of any evidence that any video was recorded, reproduced or disseminated in any way." Response
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stated that the incident was an "unspeakable tragedy ... I don't know how those two folks are going to sleep at night." The governor subsequently called for a full investigation, saying "Well, first of all, as the father of a 17-year-old, I can't imagine what those parents are feeling today—I can't."
Rutgers University students planned a "black Friday" event to commemorate and memorialize Tyler and Rutgers president Richard Levis McCormick stated "We grieve for him and for his family, friends and classmates as they deal with the tragic loss of a gifted young man..."
Ellen Degeneres stated "I am devastated by the death of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi. If you don't know, Tyler was a bright student at Rutgers University whose life was senselessly cut short." She went on to advocate for gay youth to find help instead of taking their own lives: "Something must be done. This month alone, there has been a shocking number of news stories about teens who have been teased and bullied and then committed suicide; like 13-year-old Seth Walsh in Tehachapi, California; Asher Brown, 13, of Cypress, Texas; and 15-year-old Billy Lucas in Greensberg, Indiana. This needs to be a wake-up call to everyone: teenage bullying and teasing is an epidemic in this country, and the death rate is climbing."
The Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy organization, released a plan aimed at increasing awareness of gay-related suicide and harassment around the country.
New Jersey General Assembly representatives Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Mary Pat Angelini made a joint statement saying that they planned to introduce a bipartisan "Anti-bullying Bill of Rights" sometime in October 2010 in response to these events.
US Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey stated that he intends to propose federal legislation to fund anti-harassment programs and to require schools who wish to received federal funding to establish anti-bullying procedures and codes of conduct.
In the weeks following Clementi's suicide, schools around the area that Clementi lived held vigils in memory of his death. Students at Hofstra University gathered for a candlelight vigil, and students and staff at Pascack Hills High School in Bergen County, near Ridgewood, where Clementi lived wore all black, to mourn Clementi's death.
The San Diego Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution to provide a safe environment and equal opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students. "We are lucky we have not had a situation here in San Diego, but we don't want to have to wait (..) to have a tragedy," San Diego Board of Education President Richard Barrera stated.
A commemoration called "Spirit Day", first observed on October 20, 2010, was established in which people wear the color purple in a show of support for bullying victims amongst LGBT youth. Clementi's suicide was a direct inspiration for establishing Spirit Day, and the day received wide support from GLAAD, Hollywood celebrities and over 1.6 million Facebook users around the world.