Chuck Stenzel. Matthew Carrington. Jay Lenaghan. Garrett Watterson. Gary Devercelly, Jr. What do these individuals have in common? Think Robert Champion.

What is Hazing?

In August 2000, Alfred University released the results of a nationwide survey[1] of American high schools on the prevalence of hazing rituals. Under this study, “hazing” was defined as “any humiliating or dangerous activity expected of you to join a group, regardless of your willingness to participate.” In essence, hazing is an initiation rite that goes over the line: while “[i]nitiation rites are comprised of pro-social behaviors that build social relationships, understanding, empathy, civility, altruism and moral decision-making,” hazing is marked by humiliation, harassment, or abuse. It includes:

  1. “Humiliation: socially offensive, isolating, or uncooperative behaviors.”
  2. “Substance abuse: abuse of tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs.’
  3. “Dangerous hazing: hurtful, aggressive, destructive, and disruptive behaviors.”

Other forms of humiliating and dangerous behavior include being singled out, physical humiliation, nudity, sexual acts, physical danger, and boundary testing.

Nearly half of those surveyed (48%) were subject to an activity that is considered hazing, though students appeared to be unable to distinguish between fun and hazing. “Only 14 percent said they were hazed… Most said they participated in humiliating, dangerous or potentially illegal activities as part of joining a group because those activities are ‘fun and exciting.’” Hazing starts at a younger age, before age 13, and continues through high school, and males with lower grade point averages were more likely to be the targets of hazing.

Sadly, the consequences of hazing are widespread and significant. Nearly three of every four students who reported they were hazed suffered at least one negative consequence.

Anti-Hazing Laws and Their Effectiveness

As of November 2010, forty-four states had anti-hazing laws – Connecticut’s anti-hazing law is General Statutes § 53-23a.[2] Even with the statutory groundwork, what constitutes hazing behavior “relies on authorities’ subjective interpretation” of the law.[3] As Middlesex (Massachusetts) District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. explained, “What some person finds as hazing, another is going to find as a childish prank.”[4] On the other hand, some coaches and school authorities “say they draw a hard line on any initiation rites – even activities that could seem fairly innocent. ‘I just don’t think there’s any place for it, because there’s always the chance someone is going to take it beyond or too far,’ said [a longtime football coach].”[5]

Even with laws in place, hazing is still prevalent: just yesterday, I learned of the assaults of “Billy” and “John” in La Puente, California. “[Billy and John] among several students allegedly attacked as part of a soccer team hazing ritual that involved sexual assault at La Puente High School said they were grabbed in a storage room by as many as 10 older team players.”[6] 

One student was sodomized with a pole;[7] the second “was able to escape, to run away before he got the worst of what his attackers were planning for him.”[8] Worse still, it appears the coach knew of the abuse and took no action to prevent or report it. Although several individuals have been arrested, parents are only left with unanswered questions: one parent asked, “Where was the supervision?”[9]

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

If you have any questions regarding your school hazing, bullying or any education law matter, contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

 


[1] “Initiation Rites in American High Schools: A National Survey,” by Nadine Hoover, Ph.D. and Norman Pollard, Ed.D. August 2000, Alfred University: www.alfred.edu/hs_hazing/docs/hazing__student.pdf

[2] Connecticut General Statutes § 53-23a: http://www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/chap939.htm#Sec53-23a.htm

[3] “Despite law, many still unsure when to sound hazing alarm,” by Stephanie Ebbert and Shelly Murphy. November 15, 2010: www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2010/11/15/states_antihazing_law_still_stirs_confusion_25_years_later/

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] “Victims in La Puente High sexual hazing say there are more attackers,” by Richard Winton. September 25, 2012: latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/09/la-puente-soccer-sexual-hazing.html

[7] Id.

[8] “Alleged victims describe hazing at hands of soccer teammates,” by the CNN Wire Staff. September 26, 2012: www.cnn.com/2012/09/26/us/california-student-hazing/

[9] Id.