Tag Archives: bully

Clementi’s partner testifies he saw webcam

A webcam was noticeably aimed at a Rutgers University freshman and his male guest during their intimate episode in a dorm room, the man testified March 2 at the privacy-invasion trial of the student’s roommate.

The man, who has been shrouded in mystery throughout the high-profile case and has been identified only as M.B., appeared in a New Jersey court looking clean-cut and not matching the description of the overweight, “sketchy” or homeless-looking man students have said they saw visiting Tyler Clementi’s room.

“I had just glanced over my shoulder and I noticed there was a webcam that was faced toward the direction of the bed,” the man testified, later noting there was no light indicating it was on. “Just being in a compromising position and seeing a camera lens – it just stuck out to me.”

He had met Clementi, 18, through a social networking site for gay men in August 2010, he said, and he texted repeatedly after their third and final rendezvous. He wanted to see him again, though he didn’t know his last name at the time.

“I didn’t know it until I picked up a newspaper,” he said.

Clementi’s name wasn’t in the paper until about a week later, when it was reported that he had jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River.

The man’s testimony came in the trial of Clementi’s roommate, 20-year-old Dharun Ravi, who is charged with bias intimidation, invasion of privacy and other crimes. the India-born Ravi is not charged in Clementi’s death, but it was the suicide that helped bring the case national attention.

M.B. and Clementi chatted online initially, he said, and their first in-person meeting was in Clementi’s dorm room on Sept. 17 – two days before the alleged spying.

The judge did not allow photographs of M.B. to be taken in the courthouse, barred any audio or video of him to be recorded, and said he would be identified in court only by his initials. The man’s lawyer had successfully fought to conceal his identity because he’s considered a victim of an alleged sex crime. Invasion of privacy is classified as a sex crime in New Jersey.

Jurors, though, were given his whole name to make sure none knew him.

The trim man appeared in court in a button-down shirt. His hair was closely cropped, and he didn’t have the goatee that some described him as having.

Because of the secrecy surrounding the man’s identity, there was an unusually large media contingent packed into the Middlesex County Courthouse for what was already a high-profile trial.

After a full day’s testimony – most of it during testy cross-examination by a defense layer – many mysteries remained. The man said he was 32 years old. He disclosed little else on his own. In an apparent oversight, jurors were shown a picture of Clementi’s cellphone, which revealed what appeared to be a nickname the student had entered for him.

His lawyer, Richard Pompelio of the New Jersey Crime Victims’ Law Center, said he doesn’t believe he is married and did not know whether he was out as a gay man.

“He’s a fine young man who came here under horrible circumstances to tell the truth,” Pompelio said outside the courtroom during a break in testimony.

He said M.B. had a fledgling relationship with Clementi and learned about his death from hearing it on the radio.

In court, M.B. himself said he lived about a 20-minute drive from Clementi’s dorm and was starting a new job on Sept. 20, 2010.

He testified that he met Clementi in his dorm room three times. The first was on Sept. 17, when he said Ravi was not expected home until the middle of the night. He said he was careful to leave before Ravi was due back. “I made sure to leave well before 2 a.m. as to not cause any conflict,” he said.

The second was Sept. 19, the date of the alleged spying – and the time he said he noticed the webcam.

He said he and Clementi were naked and had sex that night. People who saw webcam images of his encounter with Clementi have testified that they saw no more than a few seconds of video and that the men were not seen doing anything more graphic than kissing. At one point, some said, their shirts were off, but their pants were on.

The man told jurors there were about five students looking at him as he left the building on Sept. 19.

“Had they been in the street or somewhere other than this building I would have asked them why they were looking at me,” he said. He called their actions “unsettling.”

Ravi’s defense lawyer, Steven Altman, repeatedly asked M.B. whether he wanted to meet Clementi for a movie or a cup of coffee – or go anywhere besides the dorm.

“I preferred just to wait until we could have the privacy of a room, wherever that room might be,” he said.

His home often would not work, he said.

The third time he met Clementi was two days later, when Ravi is charged with attempted invasion of privacy. There’s been testimony that the webcam feed did not work that night. According to court papers filed previously, it was unplugged.

M.B. testified that he heard comments from the courtyard outside the dorm that night that bothered him. But he was not allowed to say what it was.

He testified that he wanted to see Clementi again. “As far as whether I was going to return to that building to see him, I felt a little uneasy about it,” he said.

Ravi faces 15 criminal counts. The most serious is bias intimidation, a hate crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Much of the testimony so far has come from college students. Several said Ravi told them that he’d used a webcam to see what was happening in the room he shared with Clementi on Sept. 19 and that he set up the camera again Sept. 21.

But none said that he had general malice toward gays.

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Lady Gaga launches Born This Way Foundation

Pop star Lady Gaga descended on Harvard University with some powerful friends on Feb. 29 to launch her new foundation aimed at empowering young people.

Oprah Winfrey, spiritual leader Deepak Chopra and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius joined the singer to kick off the Born This Way Foundation that Gaga’s mother will help steer.

Gaga spoke to more than 1,100 students from several states, faculty and invited guests at Harvard, urging the young audience to “challenge meanness and cruelty.”

“I believe that if you have revolutionary potential, you must make the world a better place and use it,” she said.

She reminded her audience – which expanded to a world-wide one on the Web –  that there is no law to make people be kind to one another and added, “I wish there was because, you know, I’d be chained naked to a fence somewhere trying to pass it.”

The singer has made a $1.2 million personal contribution to the foundation, named after her 2011 album and hit song, which has become an anthem for gay pride.

Winfrey said she supports the foundation because its message aligns with many of her core beliefs, including kindness, compassion, empowerment and acceptance. The famous talk-show host interviewed the singer on stage about the foundation.

Gaga, who has said she was the victim of bullying as a teenager, said the idea for the foundation grew out of the dialogue created after “Born This Way” was released. She said she received an onslaught of letters and emails from people who said such things as, “I want there to be more tolerance in the universe. I want there to be more acceptance.”

Gaga, 25, known for her attention-getting fashion, wore a sleek, black backless dress, platform shoes and a tall black hat.

Watch the event at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/events/2012/02/BTWwebcast.

Campaign waged to change MPAA’s ‘R’ rating for ‘Bully’

Katy Butler knows how it feels to be bullied.

When she was 12, four boys came up behind her, called her names, shoved her into a wall, slammed a locker on her hand and broke her finger. “I held back tears while I watched them run away laughing,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do so I stood there, alone and afraid.”

Katy Butler of Ann Arbor, Mich., is now in high school, where she had hoped that she and classmates might see a screening of a documentary due out in late March called “Bully.” The film’s distributor, the Weinstein Company, wants to screen the film in middle and high schools across America.

But the Motion Picture Association of America gave an “R” rating to “Bully,” meaning no one under the age of 17 should see the movie without an accompanying parent or adult guardian.

The MPAA says of an “R” rating: “Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian. An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.”

The rating of “Bully” raises questions about whether schools will be allowed to screen the film, which explores an epidemic of harassment and violence among the young in the United States. The “R” apparently stems from course language in the documentary.

The filmmakers are lobbying the MPAA to change the rating to PG-13, but have lost one appeal.

Butler, for her part, has launched a Change.org campaign.

“I can’t believe the MPAA is blocking millions of teenagers from seeing a movie that could change – and, in some cases, save – their lives,” she said. “According to the film’s Website, over 13 million kids will be bullied this year alone. Think of how many of these kids could benefit from seeing this film, especially if it is shown in schools?”

Her petition, as of early Feb. 29, had more than 129,000 signatures.

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Gingrich wants ‘religious freedom’ commission

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is promising that “on day one” in the White House he would establish a presidential commission to protect religious freedom.

Gingrich, who is courting right-wing voters as he campaigns in the Jan. 3 Iowa Caucuses, said the commission would deal with an erosion of religious freedom – the result of the First Amendment being twisted to “fit a post-modern world.”

Campaign writings on the subject reflect Gingrich’s opinion that the push for marriage equality, the battle against school bullies and the effort to preserve women’s reproductive rights threaten religious freedoms.

Gingrich, with still a long way to go in the crowded GOP nominating contest, this month released a draft of his “On Day One” executive order and contract for a 21st century America, a document his campaign said would be finalized in September, about two months before the general election.

The draft states that a presidential commission would explore both abortion and same-sex marriage, referring to women’s reproductive freedoms and marriage equality as “new ‘rights.”

The draft order states, “As litigants demand that courts and judges intervene to create new ‘rights’ out of whole cloth, such litigants and their supporters seek to limit the freedom of others to express their deeply held religious commitments to, for example, the value of every human life and to marriage as between one man and one woman.”

A presidential commission on religious freedom specifically would explore, according to Gingrich’s campaign:

• “The extent to which individuals have been harassed or threatened for exercising key civil rights to organize, to speak, to donate or to vote for marriage and to propose new protections, if needed.”

• “The extent to which the protection of religious expression and religious freedom for military chaplains and other servicemembers who support the historical, religious definition of marriage as one man and one woman may be threatened by new laws regarding conduct in the military.”

• “The impact on religious freedom of same-sex ‘marriage’ and non-discrimination laws, including the rights of individuals, businesses and religious institutions that have a conscientious objection to providing or engaging in services that support values they oppose.”

Civil rights activists said that Gingrich claims to be for the protection of First Amendment rights and religious liberties, but he’s really for a weakening of the separation of church and state.

Utah school outs gay teen to parents

Administrators at a Utah middle school outed a gay teenage boy to his parents because they feared he would be bullied, but the move has outraged civil rights groups that claim the student’s privacy was violated.

Alpine School District took the unusual step after the 14-year-old boy, whose name was not released, created an advertisement about himself and his sexual orientation during a class project, according to an AP report.

An aide later overheard other students ridiculing him and became concerned about bullying. Even though the boy was openly gay in school, he did not want to tell his parents.

“He was nervous” about telling his parents, school district spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley told the Salt Lake Tribune. “He initially said, ‘No, that can’t happen.’ He finally agreed reluctantly.”

Bromley said the boy’s parents are supportive but have removed him from school until the controversy subsides.

Civil rights groups blasted the move as a violation of the student’s right to privacy.

“The school’s decision to disclose deprived the young man the right to reveal highly personal aspects of his life at a time and manner of his choice,” Joe Cohn of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah told The Associated Press.

Cohn said there are serious consequences in such cases, especially in communities where homosexuality can carry a tremendous stigma.

In one case, Cohn said, a wrongful death lawsuit was filed after a football player committed suicide when small-town Pennsylvania police officers threatened to tell his family he was gay.

“You shouldn’t be pressured into making such an important decision,” Cohn said.

Bullied best friends take lives during sleepover

Best friends Haylee Ann Marie Fentress and Paige Lee Moravetz took some secrets when they took their lives.

The eighth-graders at Marshall Middle School hung themselves on April 16 in a home in rural Lynd, Minn., in the southwestern part of the state. The Lyon County Sheriff’s Department said Paige was on a sleepover at Haylee’s house.

The double suicide prompted a rumor of a planned pact, which Marshall Public Schools superintendent Klint W. Willert said was unfounded. “There is no evidence of any kind of a suicide pact,” he told an ABC affiliate.

The suicides also brought out assertions that the 14-year-old girls had been bullied by other teenagers. Haylee, in a Facebook post, said kids were cruel. She told family members that other students made fun of her weight and red hair and she was struggling to fit in after moving to Minnesota from Indiana about a year ago.

Appearing on NBC’s “Today” on April 14, relatives of the two girls suggested they might have been more than friends. Haylee hyphenated her last name on Facebook to include Paige’s last name, and Haylee was expelled from school for defending Paige in a fight.

“I’m so nervous and I just want to get it over with … I love you, Paige,” Haylee posted on her friend’s Facebook page shortly before their deaths.

Haylee’s mother and older sister, in a joint statement, said, “We need to stop pretending this isn’t happening or that it is just a cry for attention because obviously it is not. This needs to be talked about, and we need to try to prevent this by teaching kids in school, community and at home. They need to know that they are not alone. It shouldn’t take more tragedies to realize this.”

Both girls suffered depression, but their mothers have said they saw no indication the girls planned to take their lives.

“There was nothing,” Paige’s mom, Tricia Behnke, said on a broadcast of NBC’s “Today.”

A service for Haylee took place April 23 in Highland, Ind.

“Haylee was a compassionate, loving, big-hearted person who will live on through her family,” her family wrote in her obituary.

Paige was buried April 20 in Wilno, Minn.

“Her enjoyments in life included playing hockey, snowmobiling, fishing (especially ice fishing), helping out and spending time on the farm, camping and tubing on Lake Shaokotan, camping and knee boarding on Lake Herman, playing music, going to concerts, playing with her dog Daisy, spending time with cousins and her brother Jake, spending time with friends and traveling,” Paige’s family wrote in her obituary.

Responding to the deaths, the school district provided counseling for students and hosted a forum April 19 for parents to learn how to help a children cope with their grief.

“Marshall Public Schools remain concerned about the safety and well-being of our students and staff at this difficult time,” Willert said.

The district also issued a warning to parents and teachers that publicity surrounding suicide can lead to additional suicides or attempts. The district, in a statement released April 20, cited a World Health Organization conclusion that “some forms of non-fictional newspaper and television coverage of suicide are associated with a statistically significant excess of suicide; the impact appears to be strongest among young people. Repeated and continual coverage of suicide tends to induce and promote suicidal preoccupations, particularly among adolescents and young adults.”

From the schoolyard to the Internet to the workplace, bullying extracts a deadly toll

The impact of childhood bullying can last long into adulthood. For example, just look at Great Britain’s new princess, Kate Middleton.

“One of the wedding presents they wanted was for donations to charity, and one of the major charities they wanted donations for is called Beatbullying,” says Dr. Thomas Wright, chief medical officer for the Rockford, Ill.-based Rosecrance Health Network. “That’s because Kate was bullied as a youngster, because she was skinny and very pale.”

It’s bad enough when you’re a kid, but adults may continue to suffer the effects of childhood bullying years or decades later, leading to clinical depression, anxiety and substance abuse.

“A lot of people think that bullying is just part of growing up, that it’s sort of something kids will work out,” Wright says. “Sometimes that happens. Oftentimes it doesn’t, and it ends up being a chronic trauma issue. It has pretty serious consequences down the line.”

For members of the LGBT community, adolescent bullying can lead to self-loathing. “It makes what already is a difficult sexual developmental process in adolescence that much more difficult,” Wright says.

According to Mental Health America, a nonprofit advocacy organization, U.S. teens hear slurs such as “homo,” “faggot” and “sissy” about 26 times a day or once every 14 minutes. One study found that 31 percent of gay youth had been threatened or injured at school in the last year alone. As a result, LGBT students are more likely to skip school due to fear, threats and property vandalism.

In the wake of several high-profile cases of suicide by young people who were the targets of bullying, parents, educators and behavioral health professionals have turned their attention to the effects, interventions, treatment and support for those who are affected.

Wright and other health professionals addressed the growing crisis at “Peeling Back the Layers of Bullying,” a day-long workshop held April 29 at Lussier Family Heritage Center in Madison. The workshop featured sessions led by clinical staff from Madison’s Connections Counseling and Rosecrance, both of which treat individuals with substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Topics included “Bullying: A Crisis in Mental Health.” “Cyber Attack: Bullying and Social Media,” “Growing Pains: Healthy Ways of Coping with Stress and Anxiety as an Emerging Adult” and “Creating Connections: Mentoring and Peer Support.” About 30 healthcare professionals from Madison, Milwaukee and Rockford attended.

According to Mental Health America, 22 percent of gay students skipped school in the past month because they felt unsafe; 28 percent drop out – more than three times the national average.

But bullying doesn’t end with adulthood. Wright, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who lives in the Madison area, identifies three general forms of bullying that can occur throughout life.

Direct bullying is obvious. Indirect bullying is subtler. “It’s where the bully sabotages those around you – to you,” he says. “They talk badly to coworkers about you, but they won’t do it to your face. They might plant rumors about you. They might imply that you’re not a good worker. They sabotage your ability to succeed. A lot of times, victims don’t even know where the source is.”

Finally, there’s bullying of exclusion. “People are left out of social groups or social situations that they really ought to be included in, but they’re left out to lower that person’s self-esteem,” Wright says. “That certainly is a kind (of bullying) that happens with adults in the workplace.”

For both adults and children, bullying is an equal-opportunity problem, Wright says. There are no special identifiers for potential victims.

“It happens across the board,” he says. Still, there are some characteristics that many victims share. “They tend to be a little more socially withdrawn, more sensitive, maybe quieter or passive.”

Bullying was not studied much before 2005, when the rise of cyber bullying attracted attention. Current studies are just beginning to examine long-term effects, but depression and anxiety already have been identified, sometimes leading to suicide and self-injury, or “cutting.” Bullying can also be a contributing factor in alcohol and drug addiction, as victims attempt to self-medicate.

“Whatever psychological processes are still going on in your own head about self-esteem, your own self-worth, it can really be helpful to look at that as an adult, about what happened to you as a child,” he says. “It is important to look at it throughout the cycle. Part of the problem is that we want to ignore it: ‘That’s something I went through. That’s just something kids do, I don’t want to go through that again.’ Awareness doesn’t happen once we put our heads in the sand.”

There’s at least one other tragic reason to look at the effects of bullying.

“Interesting enough, there are about 10 to 20 percent of victims who turn into bullies themselves,” Wright says. “That contributes to the cycle of it.”

Right-wing areas have more suicides

Suicide attempts by gay teens – and even straight kids – are more common in politically conservative areas where schools don’t have programs supporting gay rights, a study involving nearly 32,000 high school students found.

Those factors raised the odds of suicide attempts,  even when known risk factors such as depression and being bullied were considered, said study author Mark Hatzenbuehler, a Columbia University psychologist and researcher.

His study found a higher rate of suicide attempts even among kids who weren’t bullied or depressed when they lived in counties less supportive of gays and with relatively few Democrats. A high proportion of Democrats was a measure used as a proxy for a more liberal environment.

The research focused only on the state of Oregon and created a social index to assess which outside factors might contribute to suicidal tendencies.

The State of Wisconsin does not provide statistics that would allow for a suicide analysis here that’s comparable to the one conducted in Oregon, said Diverse & Resilient executive director Gary Hollander.

Teen health experts told the Associated Press that Hatzenbuehler’s suicide analysis is a powerful, novel way to evaluate a tragic social problem.

“Is it surprising? No. Is it important? Yes,” said Dr. Robert Blum of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study “takes our relatively superficial knowledge and provides a bit more depth. Clearly, we need lots more understanding, but this is very much a step in the right direction,” he said.

Blum serves on an Institute of Medicine committee that recently released a report urging more research on gay health issues. Blum said the new study is the kind of research the institute believes has been lacking. The independent group advises the government on health matters.

The new study was published online in the journal Pediatrics.

Previous research has found disproportionately high suicide rates among gay teens. One highly publicized case involved a Rutgers University freshman who jumped off a bridge last year after classmates recorded and broadcast the 18-year-old having sex with a man.

The study relied on teens’ self-reporting suicide attempts within the previous year. Roughly 20 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual teens said they had made an attempt, versus 4 percent of straight kids.

The study’s social index rated counties on five measures: prevalence of same-sex couples; registered Democratic voters; liberal views; schools with gay-straight alliances; schools with policies against bullying gay students; and schools with antidiscrimination policies that included sexual orientation.

Gay, lesbian and bisexual teens living in counties with the lowest social index scores were 20 percent more likely to have attempted suicide than gays in counties with the highest index scores. Overall, about 25 percent of gay teens in low-scoring counties had attempted suicide, versus 20 percent of gay teens in high-scoring counties.

Among straight teens, suicide attempts were 9 percent more common in low-scoring counties. There were 1,584 total suicide attempts – 304 of those among gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Hatzenbuehler said the results show that “environments that are good for gay youth are also healthy for heterosexual youth.”

The study is based on 2006-08 surveys of 11th-graders that state health officials conducted in Oregon classrooms; Oregon voter registration statistics; U.S. Census data on same-sex couples; and public school policies on gays and bullying.

The researchers assessed proportions of Democrats versus Republicans; there were relatively few Independents. Information on non-voters wasn’t examined.

Zachary Toomay, a high school senior from Arroyo Grande, California, said the study “seems not only plausible, but it’s true.”

The star swimmer, 18, lives in a conservative, mostly Republican county. He’s active in his school’s gay-straight alliance, and said he’d never been depressed until last year when classmates “ostracized” him for being vocal about gay rights.

Toomay said signs of community intolerance, including bumper stickers opposing same-sex marriage, also made him feel down, and he sought guidance from a school counselor after contemplating suicide.

Funding for the study came from the National Institutes for Health and a center for gay research at the Fenway Institute, an independent Harvard-affiliated health care and research center.

Michael Resnick, a professor of adolescent mental health at the University of Minnesota’s medical school, said the study “certainly affirms what we’ve come to understand about children and youth in general.

“They are both subtly and profoundly affected by what goes around them,” he said, including the social climate and perceived support.

Kathy Griffin’s ticket sales skyrocket after Palin blasts her on Fox

Ticket sales for Kathy Griffin’s new Broadway show skyrocketed after some unexpected free publicity from Sarah Palin, the comedian told Broadway World.kathy-griffin

In a recent Fox News interview, Palin called Griffin a “bully” and a “50-year-old has-been.” Palin made the remarks after being baited by a Fox interviewer’s question about Griffin’s upcoming role as a Palin-esque character in “Glee.”

“I would just ask for respect for my children,” Palin told Fox. “As she stated on CNN, her New Year’s resolution is to destroy my 16-year-old daughter. That takes it a little bit too far. Kathy, pick on me. Come up to Alaska and pick on me, but leave my kids alone.”

Following the publicity over Palin’s interview, “I had to add two shows,” Griffin told Broadway World. “It was so fantastic: my Twitter blew up and my e-mail, too, with messages from all my friends. … It’s just a gift to have her say that. It’s a gift from Wasilla to me.”

Griffin, a staunch ally of the LGBT community who has appeared twice at Milwaukee PrideFest, is known for skewering Palin and her family in her comedy routines. The comedian has also raised Palin’s hackles by publicly cozying up to Levi Johnston, the Playgirl-posing father of Bristol Palin’s out-of-wedlock baby and an archenemy of the Palin family.

Griffin’s “Glee” character, named Tammy Jean, is “a middle-aged recent Tea Party candidate and home schooler – a Sarah Palin type,” according to Movieline. Her Broadway show, titled “Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony,” opens March 11.

Minn. gay-rights group holds anti-bully vigil

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota’s largest gay-rights group held an evening vigil in support of young people bullied based on their sexual orientation.

OutFront Minnesota’s vigil took place Thursday at Loring Park near downtown Minneapolis. It’s in response to recent reports of suicides by students in the Anoka-Hennepin school district, with family of some students and advocates saying some were prompted by anti-gay bullying.

OutFront Minnesota is calling for Minnesota lawmakers to take up a bill that would craft a uniform anti-bullying policy for all Minnesota schools. Lawmakers are due to meet soon for a special session to pass a disaster relief bill, and two Minneapolis Democrats say they’ll push for the anti-bullying bill.