Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Different Perspective on the Dharun Ravi Invasion of Privacy Case

Dharun Ravi was recently found guilty of invasion of privacy and a bias crime against  his roommate Tyler Clementi in a highly publicized trial in a New Jersey courtroom.  Clementi was an 18-year-old  Rutgers University freshman who committed suicide in September after Ravi secretly videotaped his homosexual encounter, streamed it online and told all his friends to watch.  Most of the commentary on this case has focused on the bias conviction.  I would like to talk about the invasion of privacy and gossip aspects of this case.

There is a Chassidic story about a man who went around town spreading gossip all the time. Something happened to make him realize how hurtful his behavior was and he wanted to repent. He went to the Rabbi and asked what he could do to make up for his behavior. The Rabbi told the man, "cut open a feather pillow and scatter the feathers to the winds."  The man thought this was an odd thing for the Rabbi to ask him to do, but he was glad to do it if it would help him make amends.

When he returned to tell the Rabbi that he had done it, the Rabbi said, "Now, go and gather all the feathers."  The man said, "Rabbi, that is not possible. The wind has already scattered the feathers all over town."   The wise Rabbi said, "You cannot undo the damage your words have done any more than you can gather up all the scattered feathers."

When Dharun Ravi invaded his roommate's privacy and spread the word to his friends, the gossip spread like feathers in the wind, with tragic consequences.

One good thing has come out of this tragedy. New Jersey strengthened its anti-bullying law so that it is one of the strictest in the country (see NJ Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2010/Bills/PL10/122_.PDF).  The law requires public schools to "conduct extensive training of staff and students; appoint safety teams made up of parents, teachers and staff; and launch an investigation of every allegation of bullying within one day."*  It is an excellent law that  mandates prevention programs and prompt and thorough investigations of all reports of bullying and harassment.  Hopefully other states will follow New Jersey's example.

If you want to get involved in the development of school prevention programs, you can access resources at The Center for Social and Character Development http://cscd.rutgers.edu/ResearchAndResources/  and  the New Jersey Dept. of Ed. website http://www.state.nj.us/education/students/safety/behavior/hib/. If you are a parent, there are many ways that you can take action at home and  in partnership with your child's school to help prevent harassment, intolerance, and bullying http://cscd.rutgers.edu/WhatParentsCanDo/.

What experiences have you had with bullying in schools as a parent, teacher, counselor or student?   Were you satisfied with the way the situation was handled?  Do you have any ideas about what can be done on the college level that can prevent another tragedy like the suicide of Tyler Clementi?


  1. Andrea, This is an important issue. I believe New Jersey is headed in the right direction. Bullying affects peoples lives well into the future. I hope New Jersey will hang tough with this and that other states will strengthen their laws.

  2. Hi Arlene,

    I am glad you mentioned how bullying affects people's lives well into the future. It is devastatingly traumatic. I have provided psychotherapy to many adults who were bullied as children and it has far reaching effects on their sense of safety and security, especially if nobody took steps to stop it.

    Thanks for your comment.


  3. Dear Andrea,
    This is a great post, and the the fable is so true. I see the "quirky" kids who get bullied. It is so important for us to educate kids and adults about the roles that bullies, victims, and bystanders play in this destructive pattern.
    Thanks for offering the resources.

    1. Dear Carolyn,

      You raise an important point about the role of bystanders. As the saying goes, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem" (Charles Rosner, 1967). This is so true when it comes to bullying.

      I'm glad you found the resources to be useful.

      Best wishes,

  4. Hi Andrea,

    Bullying is a serious problem that some teachers have minimized.

    As a result of bullying, my then preteen daughter experienced terrible somatic symptoms to avoid going to school. She ultimately attempted suicide...It took nearly 2 years of therapeutic boarding school for her to heal.

    She still has leftover effects from this experience. She makes sure to sit in the back of her class so that no one can do anything behind her and she can see all that is happening. If someone whom she does not see taps her, she may

    I hope New York follows New Jersey's take on anti-bullying.

  5. Hi Dalia,

    Thanks for sharing your daughter's experience. It is a tragedy that our society tends to minimize the seriousness of bullying when it has such a devastating impact on the victims (and their families). It is great to hear that your daughter has come so far in her healing.