The Right Lesson From The Rutgers Sex Video Suicide

The tragedy can be blamed on moral luck.…bad moral luck. The two Rutgers students who humiliated a classmate by secretly taping a gay sexual encounter between him and another young man and live streaming it onto the internet couldn’t know that their sensitive victim would jump off a bridge to his death in despair. Most students would not react this way. Some might have a breakdown; some might seek revenge. Some might not even care. Raunchy teen hi-jinx gross-out comedies often feature equally awful “jokes” or worse, depicted as just part of the carefree, amoral life among uninhibited youths. This time, however, the prank killed. Everyone will look at students Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei as monsters now, because of the unpredictable result brought about by their cruel violation of a fellow student’s dignity and privacy.

Yet Ravi and Wei are only lacking the same ethics alarm as the jilted girlfriend who circulates her ex’s clumsy break-up e-mail to the world, making him an international pariah, or thousands of people who post embarrassing photos of friends or enemies on their Facebook pages. There is a reason we humans treasure and need our privacy and our secrets, and when these things are taken out of our control and revealed to the world, it hurts, and does real harm to self-esteem, confidence, and reputation. The only variables are the degree of harm, and how resilient the victim is.

The right lesson to take from the humiliation and death of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi isn’t that students shouldn’t hide cameras and videotape sexual relations without permission. The lesson must be that everyone’s privacy, in matters great and small, deserves to be respected, and that we all have a duty to make certain that we protect the privacy of others as vigilantly as we would want our own protected. It doesn’t have to be a sex video to destroy a life, or to make a victim believe his or her life has been destroyed. It can be a photo, a letter, an e-mail, a YouTube video, or a secret. It isn’t bad moral luck that makes betraying a fellow human being’s right to privacy cruel, unjust, disrespectful and wrong.

It is the betrayal itself.

2 thoughts on “The Right Lesson From The Rutgers Sex Video Suicide

  1. This type of incident reminds me of how frustrating the “no harm no foul” rationalization can be, because it leads to some ethically confused individuals dismissing actions such as these under the notion that those involved couldn’t have known the outcome. (With logic like that, why bother with ethics?) Worse still, the issue of suicide is often a roadblock when discussing the ethics of those who influenced the victim, since there is frequently a high level of victim-blaming involved.

  2. Pingback: Karen Owen’s “Fuck List” and the Rutgers Sex Video Suicide: Not So Different « Ethics Alarms

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