Gay 19-year-old student Kevin Pravia was found strangled in his Chelsea apartment Sunday evening, Aug. 31. By Tuesday, a 22-year-old had confessed to the crime; he now faces murder charges.
But the story doesn’t end there. How we as individuals and as members of the LGBT community discuss and interpret the facts of the case can affect our future safety, said Kim Fountain, the deputy director of the New York City Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.
According to police and news reports, Pravia, a sophomore at Pace University, was last seen about 5 a.m. Saturday. He was drunk at a party and had to be helped in a cab to get home. Instead of going to his 15th Street apartment, he ended up in Union Square where he met 22-year-old Jeromie Cancel. The two discussed doing drugs and went to Pravia’s home, Cancel told police. Soon after, Pravia fell asleep. Cancel then killed the teenager by strangling him with a cord and shoving plastic down his throat before stealing his phone, which he sold, and laptop.
The next day, Cancel bragged about the murder to his father, who called the police (Cancel had also allegedly stolen his father’s PlayStation). Cancel confessed to the killing, according to the Daily News, even bragging to police that he watched the horror movie “Saw” before leaving his victim’s apartment.
When asked by a crowd of reporters why he killed Pravia, Cancel, with short-cropped hair and trendy wire-framed glasses, gloated, “Because I wanted to. You gotta problem with that?” Later, he was ordered to go on medication after he started spinning around and acting bizarre during questioning.
When details of the Pravia murder were breaking Monday morning, all that was known then was that Pravia was a teenage college student at Pace and had been found dead by his roommate; his Facebook photo was included in the reports. Already, bloggers and online commentators speculated that Pravia was gay and that he was the victim of a sexual hookup that had gone very wrong—after all, he was cute and he lived in Chelsea. What else could it be? Right?
Wrong. For example, Cancel denied any sexual activity and police reports confirm that. That’s why, given the facts so far, the case is not considered a LGBT hate crime—it wasn’t motivated by the victim’s real or perceived sexuality or gender identity. The official term for the Cancel/Pravia case is a “crime of opportunity.”
People—and the media—begin to piece together information in ways that harm the community, Fountain says. Comments such as “He was young,” “He was using drugs,” “He was gay,” “He was a partier” come together to create a stereotype of a person who deserved to be harmed or should have known better.
In turn, that leads people to stop being cautious in their own minds because they think, “I’d never do that so I’m not going to be harmed.” They miss a lot of facts because they stop looking.
“Judging [Pravia] or dismissing him doesn’t lead to your safety or the safety of people around you,” Fountain said. “People do bad things all the time. People who seek to harm other people are out there. We ask people to be aware, not to the point of paranoia, but to the point of being safe.”
AVP’s website, avp.org, includes safety tips on dating and meeting people online (see our list of those hints at the end of this story).
Noting what she considers “a harmful stigma against the ways many gay men choose to find sexual partners,” Fontain said that AVP is “not here to wag fingers and police people’s behaviors. We’re here to say, ‘If you choose to do this, here are some safety tips.’
“That’s what we want to encourage,” she said. “And to encourage people to take care of one another. As a community to look after one another. Talk about this, talk to one another. Find information.”
Safety Tips for Dating
and Online Encounters
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects offers these tips for online and safe dating. Download additional ideas and specifics about these tips at avp.org.
• Trust your gut.
• Get a picture (face shot) and phone number before you meet the person.
• If you decide to meet someone in person, meet in public.
•If you host:
Leave valuables (wallet, money, checkbook, jewelry, or things that look expensive or have sentimental value) out of sight.
Keep items that could be used as a weapon out of sight (kitchen knives, bats, etc).
Stay awake the entire time the person is there—no sleep‐overs the first time!
It is better not to host if you don’t live in a secure building. Remember, from that point on, the person you meet knows where you live.
Keep your cell phone charged and close to you at all times. But remember: The police or your friend can’t be there immediately so have a backup safety plan.
• If they host:
Tell at least one person the address where you will be and for how long.
Bring your phone and keep it charged.
Do not accept drinks (even water) at the person’s home unless you observe the drink being poured. Date rape drugs have no odor or flavor even in water.
If somebody else is at the home when you get there, exit.
If at any point you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, leave immediately. You don’t have to give an explanation. Be assertive without being aggressive.
• If you meet in public:
A well‐lit and crowded place is best. It gives you the chance to see how your date interacts in public.
If you would rather meet at a bar or a club, remember to get your own drinks. If you drink at all, don’t drink past a mild buzz. Assailants often perceive intoxication as a vulnerability.
If someone insists on getting your drink for you, tell him or her no. If the date still doesn’t respect that, don’t take the drink and don’t socialize with the person.
Another advantage of meeting in public is that you can bring friends with you. They can watch your back.
If you decide to leave with the person, get the address of where you’ll be and the date’s phone number. Introduce him or her to the bartender, friends or acquaintances before leaving.
The Anti-Violence Project 24-hour bilingual hotline is 212-714-1141.