An incident of roughhousing 

Boys will be boys

It’s a “bonding exercise”

We all went through it

There are all kinds of excuses but hazing now is really inexcusable. We know a lot more now about the long-term serious consequences of hazing than even a few decades ago.  It should not be tolerated.  Unfortunately, even with multiple lawsuits against institutions that have allowed hazing to occur, it is still happening on a regular basis.

Recent Incidents

Recent incidents in our local schools involving assault between students is not “hazing.” If a person has a broom or other item shoved into the cervices of their body by another person against their will that is sexual assault (Bixby 2017; Putnam City 2018). If a person is forced to strip down and engage in sexualized acts, that is not hazing but is assault. If physical abuse between teammates is encouraged, that is not hazing but is assault. There is absolutely no justification for creating a “code of silence” among students. This simply amounts to creating a culture that tolerates assault. 

Deep Roots

Old-school hazing was an attempt to bond a group together – freshmen had to “pay their dues” by washing the uniforms or carrying the gear. 

But what has happened at Kingfisher (2021), OU fraternities (2018, 2021), the OCU cheer team (2020) are not bonding experiences. It is not hazing. It is assault.

And, no, it is not your imagination. These events really are happening more often. Nor are we the only state with this problem. The Stop Hazing organization reports that 73% of students in fraternities or sororities experienced hazing; 74% of students involved in varsity athletics experienced hazing.  Alcohol abuse, isolation, sleep deprivation and sex acts are common hazing practices across all types of student groups.

Elementary and secondary schools are not required to track sexual assaults. And many try to conceal it. Disappointingly, coaches are often aware of these behaviors. In the Kingfisher incident, it is alleged that the coach was a catalyst for the abuse. In some cases the coaches, and indeed occasionally the whole community, close ranks around the perpetrators rather than the victims. The school’s reputation or the team’s reputation may be placed ahead of the safety of the sufferers.

Hazing Next Year’s Hazers

One explanation the experts put forth for how we got into this situation is the idea that each year, the victims of last year’s hazing are now hazing others. They make it a little worse than they got. So, there is a downward spiral of behavior. I suppose this could be true if no adults are stepping in to stop the behavior.

Assaults that are categorized as “roughhousing,” “hazing,” or “horseplay” – just as we’ve seen in our community recently – may not be stopped because the reality of the harm that is inflicted is being minimized by adults.  Even minor incidents of real hazing are remembered well into old age. Actual assaults are not only remembered but typically have lifelong negative consequences for the victims.

Often, the victims themselves will facilitate this cover-up. The victim may be so humiliated by this treatment, that they do not want others to know it happened. The desire to belong, which is so intense in kids of this age, overcomes self-protection. To be labeled the snitch or the rat is seen as just as bad, if not worse, than the physical act of assault.

Confronting Hazing Culture

Attacking this problem will require attention from a variety of people and entities. Coaches and teachers must supervise students, even older students, to prevent violence. Administrators must fight the urge to “cover-up” and instead investigate and halt the behavior. Parents must be alert to changes in behavior and investigate their concerns that may start as just a feeling in the gut. The criminal justice system needs to aggressively pursue these cases. There have been far too many potential criminal charges declined because the only evidence is the victim’s testimony.

The civil justice system has a role to play as well. While these are challenging cases, schools are not immune from being sued for such assaults if there was notice before the assault occurred. If you or your child is interested in learning about your legal rights about physical or sexual hazing, contact Koller Trial Law today.

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