In Light of Varying State Anti-Hazing Laws, Is the “Halting Hazing Act of 2012” the Solution?

Hazing Legislation in the United States

“The time for Congress to act is now,” commanded U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, D-Fla, behind a banner that read: “Hazing Kills – 163 deaths to date. If you want to haze, lose your financial aid, not for a few days, but for LIFE!”[1]

Nicknamed “the Haze Buster,” Congresswoman Wilson has announced plans to introduce a congressional bill, the Halting Hazing Act of 2012, which would make hazing “a federal offense resulting in the [permanent] loss of financial aid to students involved.”[2] Any State that does not enact a felony hazing statute would face restricted federal transportation funding,[3] similar to how Congress links highway funds to whether the State in question has a minimum drinking age of twenty-one (21). Furthermore, “an advisory committee within the Justice Department [would be formed and] dedicated to hazing prevention and elimination.”[4]

The need for this legislation stems in part from the apparent disparity in State hazing statutes, which “vary dramatically in penalties and definition,” and only eight States “classify some forms of hazing as a felony, depending on the level of severity.”[5] 

What is Hazing?

Under Connecticut law, hazing is defined as “any action which recklessly or intentionally endangers the health or safety of a person for the purpose of initiation, admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in a student organization.”[6] It includes but is not limited to:

  • Requiring indecent exposure of the body;
  • Requiring any activity that would subject the person to extreme mental stress, such as sleep deprivation or extended isolation from social contact;
  • Confinement of the person to unreasonably small, unventilated, unsanitary or unlighted areas;
  • Any assault upon the person;
  • Requiring the ingestion of any substance or any other physical activity which could adversely affect the health or safety of the individual.[7]

A victim’s voluntary participation or consent cannot be claimed as a defense. However, hazing does not constitute a felony in Connecticut: violation of this section will result in a $1,500 fine and one-year suspension of a student organization’s operating privileges or a $1,000 fine for a participant. Additional civil or criminal remedies are available. Unfortunately, the statute specifically applies to student organizations at institutions of higher learning, leaving a void as to course of action with hazing in Connecticut high schools.

The Impact of Connecticut Hazing Legislation

While this legislation is well-meaning and has an honorable goal, the true potential impact is questionable at best. Despite the existence of anti-hazing laws in a vast majority of States, as well as similar policies within the bylaws of college fraternities, sororities, and other student organizations, hazing is “a practice that doesn’t appear to be letting up despite increasing knowledge of the risks and stepped-up education on college campuses.”[8] 

Furthermore, the actual language of the bill has yet to be drafted and is thus subject to pure speculation. However, if this legislation serves as a wake-up call to States to crack down on the implementation of laws already in place, as well as a direct threat to a would-be participant’s wallet, if we can save the life of the next Robert Champion, then Congresswoman Wilson’s valiant efforts will not have been for naught.

Should you have any questions about hazing or other education law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

 


[1] “Florida Congresswoman Introduces Anti-hazing Legislation,” by Jamaal Abdul-Alim. September 21, 2012: http://diverseeducation.com/article/48258/

[2] “Clearing Up Hazing: Opponents Are Pushing for Stricter Laws,” by Deborah L. Cohen. October 1, 2012: http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/clearing_up_hazing_opponents_are_pushing_for_stricter_laws/

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Connecticut General Statutes § 53-23a(a)(1).

[7] Id.

[8] See Footnote 2.