First published in Jacques, 2011
As long as there have been co-ed colleges, students have been spying on each other having sex. It takes modern technology, however, to turn it deadly.
When Rutgers student Dharun Ravi secretly broadcast his roommate having sex, he had no idea what the consequences would be.
Yet four days later, what had started as a simple prank ended with Ravi in handcuffs, and the lifeless body of his roommate being dredged from the frigid waters of the Hudson river.
The story captured the attention of the nation – with Ravi accused of cyber-bullying, invasion of privacy and even homophobia (he’d recorded his roommate having an encounter with another guy.)
The Plainsboro student was charged with four counts of Invasion of Privacy and released on $25,000 bail. There was little sympathy for him:
“We’re sickened that anyone in our society, such as the student allegedly responsible for making the surreptitious video, might consider destroying others’ lives as ‘sport’,” hissed Steven Goldstein, chairman of the New Jersey gay rights group Garden State Equality.
“I don’t know how he’s going to sleep at night,” snarled Governor Christie, demanding a full investigation.
But while the media roiled itself up in righteous indignation, much of the talk around America’s water-coolers focused on a different aspect of the story.
Because while what Dharun Ravi did was unequivocally wrong, many people argued that it wasn’t exactly unique. Spying on copulating co-eds, Jacques soon learned, is a tradition almost as old as higher education itself. Here are three generations’ stories of villainous voyeurism:
Revenge, 21st Century Style
Information Technology student Liz attends college upstate – and the story of Dharun Ravi hit her pretty close to the bone. Not because she was the victim of illicit cyber surveillance; but because she was once the perpetrator.
“My first-year boyfriend cheated on me during spring break,” she confessed to Jacques, “and I was pissed. I thought he and I had something really special. I’d even given my virginity to him.”
Her girlfriends had a variety of vengeful suggestions, but in the end, Liz decided to use what she was learning in class to get her own back.
“My boyfriend was pretty clueless when it came to computers. He’d given me the password to his desktop once and had never changed it when we broke up. I could dial into his computer remotely, right from my own dorm room.”
Logging onto her ex’s desktop produced a treasure-trove of embarrassing evidence.
“I’m not dumb – I know every teenage boy looks at porn. When I checked his browser history, though – paydirt: My ex had been visiting some really juicy websites – WellHungShemales.xxx, Tranny Island.com, BisexualThreesomes.org. To his buddies he was just the typical jock; but in the privacy of his dorm room, he jerked off to gay and bisexual porn.”
“I printed out his browser history and was prepared to go public with that – it would make pretty hilarious reading for his frat brothers. But then I got another idea – a wicked idea.”
Liz’s ex had the best desktop Mommy and Daddy’s college fund could afford, and it included a state-of-the-art webcam.
“He didn’t even know how to use it,” Liz scoffs. “I don’t think he even knew that it was there.” But she did – and was able to turn it on remotely.
“Then I waited,” she confesses, “and with him being a typical college kid, I didn’t need to wait long.” That same night, Liz’s ex drew the curtains, pulled out the lotion and placed a box of Kleenex within easy reach.
“All I had to do was click ‘record,’” she explains. “I got a full-face web-cam shot of him jerking off in one window, while the other window recorded exactly what he was jerking off to. I got twenty minutes of a guy who’d told his frat boy buddies he ‘hated fags’ jerking off to videos from TwinksInLeather.com.”
Her only regret?
“I wish he’d lasted twenty minutes with me!”
With the video saved, the next part was easy.
“I uploaded it anonymously to YouTube,” Liz explains, “and then emailed every one of his frat brothers with a link. I had fifty hits within the hour.”
“My ex wasn’t exactly MENSA material,” Liz jokes, “but it didn’t take him long to figure out who was responsible. When his buddies broke the news about the video, he ran right over to my dormitory, kicked at the door and threatened to kill me.”
“I called Campus Police, but they didn’t press any charges. They just made sure he knew to steer clear of me. I haven’t spoken to him since.”
What surprised Liz, though, was the anticlimactic aftermath of her ex-boyfriend’s video ‘outing’.
“My ex thought his life was over,” she remembers, “but in less than week, his fraternity had accepted him back into the fold like nothing had happened.”
“It makes sense really, I guess,” she scoffs. “I always figured that homophobic attitude his buddies cultivated was just overcompensation. They probably didn’t care about him jerking off to gay porn because they all secretly did it themselves!”
If there’s anything that leaves Liz uncomfortable about her adventure, it’s the parallels she spotted between what she did, and the illicit webcam broadcast Dharun Ravi made.
“I honestly feel bad for the guy,” she admits. “I don’t think he meant any harm – he certainly didn’t intend for anybody to kill themselves.”
“I felt bad because a lot of the shit they’re talking about in the news – how it was ‘homophobic bullying’ because Ravi ‘outed’ his gay roommate – was like me ‘outing’ my ex-boyfriend to his fraternity. If circumstances had been different, maybe I’d have ended up where he is now.”
But her final thoughts place the blame at another’s feet.
“Whatever you think about what Ravi did, you’ve got to argue that the kid who killed himself made a pretty shitty decision. I know it must have been hell for those few days – but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t such a big deal. It certainly wasn’t worth killing yourself over, and I think blaming Ravi for the suicide isn’t fair.”
Voyeurism in the Days of Video
One person who might disagree is Sarah – a prim wife and mother living in Edison, N.J.
She graduated from Binghampton more than a decade ago; but still vividly remembers the reason transferred to the New York college at the end of her second year.
“Just like the kids in the news, I started off at Rutgers,” she told Jacques magazine. “I loved it there. It was close to home and the atmosphere was great for somebody who loved sports.” She showed us the scarlet ‘R’ tattoo on her ankle. “I got that in my first year, to show my love of the Scarlet Knights.”
In Sarah’s second year, she started dating one of the college basketball stars.
“For a 20-year-old girl who loves sports, it was awesome,” she confessed “And the sex wasn’t bad, either.”
“I wasn’t exactly a virgin by the time I started dating him, but he was my first long-term boyfriend. A lot of sexual firsts were with him. He was very adventurous. I found his hard body and sexual aggressiveness really hot.”
There was one night in particular that Sarah remembers – one that ultimately changed her life.
“We’d been hanging out at a bar and both came back pretty drunk. He seemed distracted when we went up to his room – only later did I discover why.”
“I went to the bathroom and put my diaphragm in. When I got back, he was suddenly really dominant and aggressive – kissing me hard and stripping me out of my clothes. I was drunk and horny, so I kind of liked it.”
“Perhaps I should have realized something was wrong because of the way he was fucking me that night – like he was putting on a performance or something. He had me suck his cock for ages – grabbing my hair and ramming it down my throat until I couldn’t breath. Then he lifted me up and sucked my nipples hard, while fingering me really roughly. I didn’t mind at the time – I thought it was hot – but now I think about it, it seemed out of character even for him.”
“We had sex in a bunch of different positions – it was like the Kama Sutra. He had me ride him, then we did it missionary style – he grabbed my ankles and bent me in half. Finally he flipped me over and started pounding me doggy-style. I liked that.”
“Eventually, when I was about ready to call it quits, he grabbed my hips and shifted me across the bed – like he was aiming my ass in a specific direction. I’d later realize that’s exactly what he was doing.”
“The next thing I knew, he shoved his cock into my ass. We’d done that a couple of times before, but I wasn’t exactly expecting it this time! I just bit my lip and shoved my face into the pillows and hoped he’d hurry the fuck up, because it hurt. Thank God I’d used lube when I put my diaphragm in, otherwise he might have torn something.”
“After what seemed like forever, I felt him start to speed up and I knew he was going to come. I expected him to come in me, but instead he pulled another porn-star stunt and pulled out, coming all over my butt cheeks instead – like he was Ron Jeremy or something.”
“Afterward, I was halfway between thinking it had all been super hot, and being pissed at him being so rough.”
“The next morning I was late for class, so I kissed my boyfriend and told him I’d see him that night – I had classes all day.”
“Well, I was hung-over as shit, so I didn’t make it through my first class before I needed to run to the bathroom and throw my guts up. Eventually, I decided to skip class entirely and go and have a lie down. My boyfriend’s place was closer than mine, so I decided to crash in his bed for a couple of hours.”
“When I got to his place, I could hear a bunch of guys laughing and hooting through the door. It sounded like the whole basketball team was having a party or something. I pushed open the door and saw about a dozen of his buddies crowded around his TV. That’s when I felt like throwing up all over again.”
“On the TV screen was a grainy porn film playing out – of some girl with her ass in the air, getting butt-fucked. It wasn’t until I saw the red ‘R’ tattoo on her ankle that I realized it was me. My boyfriend had videotaped us having sex the night before – and here he was showing to all his buddies!”
“No wonder he’d been so distracted when we got home from the bar. He’d been setting up the camera where I couldn’t see it.”
“It took a while for the guys to realize I was standing there. My boyfriend only noticed when I felt my stomach contract and threw up again, all over his floor.”
“I can’t even remember what happened next. I think I made it half way down the stairs before he caught up with me. He grabbed my shoulders and tried to play it off. “It was a joke, Baby,” and: “It’s no big deal.” I don’t remember much – just that my stomach was pretty empty, but what little there was left, I threw up down his shirt.”
“I didn’t know what to do. I guess I should have gone to the police or something, but I was too ashamed. I didn’t want my parents to know what had happened.”
In the end, Sarah toughed out the last weeks of her semester and transferred from Rutgers at the end of the year.
“I just couldn’t deal with it. I couldn’t handle seeing my ex-boyfriend on campus. Whenever I ran into his basketball buddies, I saw the way they looked at me. They told their girlfriends about the video and half the girls on campus started sniggering and pointing when I walked by. In the end, I knew I just had to get the fuck out of there.”
This is why she doesn’t have any sympathy for Dharun Ravi.
“When I heard about the kid committing suicide at Rutgers, it was like getting punched in the gut. So much of that poor kid’s story sounded like mine.”
“I knew exactly how he must have felt. Those first few days after I found out about the videotape? I must have thought about killing myself a hundred times.”
“That little shit who made the video should be locked up, plain and simple. Just like my ex-boyfriend did to me, he violated his roommate. No normal person would do that – he’s a sociopath.”
“I feel so sorry for the parents of the kid who died. I know that if they’d had a chance to talk to him before it happened, they would have told him that a stupid videotape wasn’t worth killing yourself over.”
“It’s been more than 10-years since I had to quit Rutgers, and since then I’ve got married, had kids and have a beautiful life. That videotape might have seemed like the end of the world when it happened, but I know now that it was nothing. It probably doesn’t even exist any more.”
But she will admit one thing: “I still refuse to have a camcorder in the house.”
David admits that it’s been over forty years since he graduated from his Virginia law-school, but he’s got a story about spying on students that isn’t altogether different from the Dharun Ravi debacle.
“Of course, back in the seventies we didn’t have webcams or video cameras,” he admits, “but we still had sex. My days at college were wild. I was lucky I graduated, with all the shit my buddies and I got up to.”
David admits the seventies were a different time.
“Man, there was so much ass at my school you couldn’t walk across campus without getting some. I think it was all those ‘women’s lib’ types – they’d come to law school to prove they were every bit the equal of men in the bedroom as well as the classroom.”
“I remember one time hooking up with this wild chick from New York City. She had this long, sexy black hair and smoked marijuana all the time. I thought she was the hottest shit ever – and my buddies wouldn’t believe that a chick that hot would have anything to do with a schlub like me!”
But David had a cunning plan to prove his sexual prowess.
“I challenged one of my buddies to come over and promised I’d prove it. Twenty minutes before this chick was due to come to my room for a ‘study date’, we snuck this kid into my dormitory and I hid him in the closet.”
“The girl came over and we didn’t get much studying done. I remember we smoked a joint and drank a couple of beers and then we started fooling around. Man, she was hot. I remember she had this big boobs with half-inch nipples and a really hairy bush – like the kind you won’t see in Playboy any more!”
“We fucked for about half an hour, and I made sure my buddy got a show. I got her to ride me, with her big tits flopping up and down. Then I got between her thighs and we did it the old fashioned way. It was actually pretty hot, knowing that I was being watched.”
“At one point, I tried to turn her around on the bed so the kid in the wardrobe could get a better view. One time I even threw the covers over her face and the little wiseass poked his head out of the wardrobe and gave me a thumbs up!”
“Eventually, I came inside her and we lay there for a bit. She was a wild chick, man. She fucked just like a guy – she was up, dressed and out the door before I knew it.”
“And, of course, as soon as she’d left, this kid came tumbling out of the wardrobe with his eyes like saucers. Turns out he was a virgin – he hadn’t even seen a girl’s tits before. What he’d just witnessed was like a real-life stag movie for him. He told everybody.”
“That episode pretty much made my reputation at college. Once word got round, I even had girls coming up to see what all the fuss was about.”
“As for the girl herself – I don’t think she even knew about my buddy watching us, despite all the people he told. I don’t remember hooking up with her again. I think she switched schools and headed out to the west coast later that year.”
Jacques asked David if he felt bad for what he did.
“Why the fuck would I? Nobody got hurt – it was all just a bit of fun. Kids used to do crazy shit like that all the time back in college. I heard one story that took it even further: These kids switched the lights off and when the first kid had blown his load, the other kid sneaked out of the wardrobe, swapped places and fucked the chick himself!”
So how does David view what happened to Dharun Ravi’s suicidal roommate?
“Oh, man, that’s some fucked up shit,” he admits. “And it’s different, y’know?”
“With me, it was one guy watching. Broadcasting your roommate having sex all over the Internet? That’s fucked up. What I did was just a bit of fun. What this Ravi kid did was just wrong.”
Same Shit, Different Technology
But ultimately, the only thing separating David’s ‘bit of fun’ from Dharun Ravi’s deadly prank was scale.
In David’s case, only one other person witnessed what had happened. When Dharun Ravi switched on his webcam and broadcast his roommate’s clandestine encounter to the Internet, he hit as many viewers as cable television.
It’s modern technology that takes an ‘innocent prank’ and turns it deadly. In David’s story, nobody got hurt – but twenty years later, when Sarah’s sexual exploits were videotaped, she considered suicide. Ten years after that, Liz’s ex-boyfriend threatened to kill her when he found out about what she’d uploaded to YouTube.
“I think it’s all very well arguing that Dharun Ravi’s prank was no more malicious than hiding in the wardrobe to watch your buddy getting it on,” argues Aaron White, a Resident Advisor at a popular State College, “but it doesn’t make it true.”
“With that wardrobe story, it’s one guy who witnesses the act – and it’s generally an inside joke between two people. That doesn’t make it right, but that girl they spied on probably never even knew that she was the victim of voyeurism.”
“When you broadcast it on the ‘net, though,” White explains, “you’re doing something different. There’s no vetting process. You’re letting strangers witness something private.”
“What if his parents had found out, and hadn’t known that he was gay until then? What if his church found out? There are just so many ‘what ifs.’ Outing this kid would have had serious, long-term repercussions for both him and his family. Dharun Ravi knew that – he just didn’t give a shit.”
In the end, it teaches us an important lesson:
“Beware of technology,” Aaron warns. “In some ways, both Dharun and his roommate were victims of it. Once you throw shit out onto the Internet, it’s there forever. Dharun probably didn’t consider that when he set up the broadcast.”
Because of what happened at Rutgers, White now gives the kids in his dormitory a lecture on staying smart in the digital era.
“I warn my students not to take pictures or video they’re not comfortable sharing with other people. If you wouldn’t show it to your grandma,” he advises, “don’t take it. That way, you don’t risk it being accidently – or maliciously – being uploaded to the Internet.”
He also advises students to be smart:
“Hey, we all like to get a little wild at college – but don’t be dumb. I already tell kids to make sure they’ve got condoms with them when they hook up. Now, I reminded them to take a look around a room first. If there’s a computer with a webcam, turn it the other way or throw a towel over it. Don’t trust your date when they tell you it’s turned off.”
And the final piece of wisdom Aaron shares is arguably the most important:
“If something compromising does go public? Don’t sweat it.”
“Just look at Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian,” he argues. “They were caught fucking on video and now they’re stars. Paris Hilton is even considered a role model for little kids. Can you believe that?”
“Basically,” Aaron argues, “it’s no big deal. It’s embarrassing and excruciating, but in the big picture, nobody really gives a crap. The world’s got a shorter and shorter attention span these days. What’s the end of the world for you one moment is probably going to be ancient history the next.”
Regarding the Rutgers student who killed himself, Aaron sadly says: “I just wish there’d been somebody around to tell that kid the same thing. Perhaps, if they had, he’d still be with us.”
And while he doesn’t absolve Dharun Ravi of responsibility, Aaron does admit: “If there’s a real crime committed here, it’s that.”