Karen Owen’s “Fuck List” and the Rutgers Sex Video Suicide: Not So Different

Karen Owen is a recent graduate of Duke. Either they don’t comprehend the nature of the internet at Duke, or are graduating more than their share of cruel, thoughtless, reckless dolts, because Owen decided it would be a hoot to make a faux “senior thesis” Powerpoint presentation documenting her sexual activity with thirteen Duke athletes, none of whom gave consent to be named in her “study”. She classily dubbed it her “fuck list,” but it was unofficially titled “An education beyond the classroom: excelling in the realm of horizontal academics.”  (“Horizontal academics…get it?) Then she e-mailed the file to three “friends,” and, as you’ve probably guessed, one  or more of them sent it around to their friends, who eventually made it viral. Soon two websites decided to maximize the harm to all concerned, as websites are prone to do…especially websites called “Deadspin.”

Karen Owen’s completely callous and reckless disregard for her sexual partners, their dignity, privacy, and humanity, is different from the despicable act of the Rutgers students who secretly videotaped a fellow student’s sexual encounter in degree only. No, she didn’t intend to degrade them far and wide, to strangers and acquaintances alike, but she was equally contemptuous of  their privacy, equally devoid of decency, respect and fairness, and similarly cavalier with the intimate secrets of others who trusted her. This wasn’t a sudden impulse by Owens. She spent a lot of time on it (the presentation had over 40 pages); more than enough for the realization to dawn on a person whose ethics alarms function normally that sending such a thing to anyone over the Internet was an invitation to magnified abuse and wanton harm. She didn’t care.

All of the 13 Duke athletes were rated in their sexual talents by a set of criteria, including physical attractiveness, size of equipment, talent, creativity, aggressiveness, entertainment, and athletic ability.  Owen gave each a grade from 1-10. How humiliating for them. What an awful betrayal by Owens.

All that is required to make her disregard for her lovers, which is so mean-spirited that it approaches hate, completely mirror the Rutgers tragedy is for one of her subjects to commit suicide in disgrace and shame. It can’t happen, you say? I have no doubt that Darun Ravi would have said the same about the sensitive young musician, now deceased, who discovered that his sexual activities had been viewed by strangers. The chances of a tragedy are at least 13 times higher in the case of Owen’s “joke,” unless you believe, as Owen apparently does, that jocks have no feelings. Owen’s Powerpoint will have a much longer life on the web than the Rutgers sex video. How many of her victims will have it adversely affect their reputations, jobs prospects, families and enjoyment of life? The extent of the harm that ultimately comes from Owen’s cruelty depends on one thing only: moral luck. If nobody dies, it is no credit to her.

The Rutgers video and its tragic aftermath is being called a hate crime, which is nonsense, though it was certainly hateful. No more so, however, than Owen’s “thesis.” There is no way of knowing whether the victimized athletes were the only Owen sex partners she humiliated; my guess is that they were not. They were just the ones she was willing to betray and scorn. The ones she cared about didn’t get rated. There was hate, all right.

Let us not forget to give due  credit to Owen’s accomplices who magnified her despicable conduct and made it extra-hurtful: her irresponsibility friends who forwarded the presentation and Deadspin, the website that couldn’t restrain itself from posting it, uncensored. (Another site, Jezebel, properly protected the identities of the athletes in the version it published.) There is no excuse for what Deadspin did. It is simply exploiting Owen’s victims for website traffic. The owners of the site are as unethical as Karen Owen.

The New York Times has picked up the prevailing theme of the story, about how the Internet threatens privacy. The Internet didn’t do anything, any more than Microsoft’s Powerpoint program. The privacy of the Duke athletes was violated by people—Owen, her friends, Deadspin’s operators, and everyone who couldn’t comprehend the fact that human beings were being hurt every time they passed the intimate information to a new viewer.

The lesson to be taken from the latest assault on Duke athletes is exactly the same as the one I posted here, just a week ago, in the wake of Tyler Clementi’s death. Obviously they aren’t teaching it at Duke, and our culture is clearly not doing a very good job of conveying it either….amazing, since it is little more than a basic application of the Golden Rule. It required no special insight to write, because it is, or should be, obvious. Here it is again.

“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.”

If anyone wants to make it into a Powerpoint presentation, they have my permission.

5 thoughts on “Karen Owen’s “Fuck List” and the Rutgers Sex Video Suicide: Not So Different

  1. “Hmm, what’s more important, my fame or my casual fuck-mates’ dignity and humanity?” We know her answer was in the affirmative. Inasmuch as this behavior is emblematic of American society today, can there be doubt that Satan lives?

  2. I don’t usually reply to posts but I will in this case.
    my God, i thought you were going to chip in with some decisive insght at the end there, not leave it
    with ‘we leave it to you to decide’.

  3. I was also publicly shamed by a board certified physician who took something from my desktop and “shared” it. It has gone to a my whole circle of friends, ethnic community here and abroad and to the staff at a major University. I don’t think he expected it to go this far and may be experiencing some shame himself at this point. My life as I knew it is over. Any suggestions on how to deal with shame?

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