Monday, October 4, 2010

Just a Violation of Privacy?

Dharun Ravi and Molly W. Wei, two students from Rutger’s University, placed a camera in the dorm room of another student without consent and transmitted the student having sex. This was NOT an isolated incident. The pair had done it to another student, on TWO other occasions. The difference in the case of the most recent victim, whose name is not being released, is that he was driven to suicide. Ravi has since been released on 25,000 bond and Wei on personal recognizance. (And this writer cannot help but notice that THEIR pictures have not been published!)

Recent comments have referring to the incident as a “prank” minimizes the impact of such a crime. Bullying maybe an appropriate word, but even this seems to fall a little short.

If each person is made in the image of Go-d, then isn’t wrong to devalue and demoralize that image, honoring tzelem elohim, the Divine Image (Gen. 1:26) Rabbi Joshua Maroof says about bullying that, “The bully seeks to degrade the other. Therefore, bullying assaults Judaism's most sacred principle, targeting its most sacred object--a human being.” We are also reminded that the Talmud warns us against shaming someone; that it is the equal of murder. (Rashi compared the two and sites the example of the color draining from a person’s face as though they were losing blood.)

It is not such a stretch then to see this young man’s suicide as a type of murder. After all, what was Ravi and Wei’s purpose in sneaking into the young man’s room and airing a live sexual act if not to humiliate him? One could argue that there is a big difference between spiritual and physical death, but is there really? Clearly, they are very close. In this case, one might even argue causal.

Much has been made of the fact that the young man was gay, and some individuals have suggested that perhaps that was part and parcel of why he was so deeply ashamed. That’s a self serving, one sided stance and I say, we are no less guilty for it; What were his expectations regarding peoples’ reactions and judgments of him do you think?

While we may be tempted to read into this as the problem, it is not. Would much less blame be laid at the feet of a woman who had perhaps had too much to drink and was raped, or young child who stays out too late and is injured? What if it were a shy young bride whose personal moment was displayed on line for all to see? Could we see the crime more clearly then? This blaming the victim not only harkens to the days of accusations that ‘she wasn’t a virgin’ or ‘her skirt was too short’! It fosters an underlying feeling that the crime is not punishable. And if it is NOT punishable, then it IS repeatable. And that’s bad news for everyone, including you. It sends a message that all one needs to do to harm YOU without penalty, is to think of an excuse. Jewish people should be familiar with this logic. It appears against us again and again through history.

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