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People's Law Guide

 

Hazed & Abused

05/26/12

HAZED & ABUSED
Harsh Treatment at Middle Schools, High Schools & Colleges

Films such as Animal House sometimes portray hazing to be humorous. But students who have been sexually abused, branded with hot prods, or badly beaten by paddling or caning, don't find this type of exploitation to be funny. And neither do their parents, many of whom have grieved at their sons' and daughters' funerals. Frequently, these deaths occur from alcohol poisoning or activities made even more dangerous by episodes of heavy drinking.

Though most people associate hazing with fraternities, fewer people know that some sports teams, marching bands, drama departments, cheerleading squads, ROTC units, and other campus organizations brutalize and humiliate members, too. And mothers and fathers rarely anticipate that hazing practices occur at middle schools and high schools.

A nationwide study on high school hazing completed in 2000 by Alfred University found that every high school organization, except newspaper and yearbook staffs, had significantly high levels of hazing. Researchers classified hazing into three types and determined that certain types of organizations were prone to haze members in forms falling in one or more categories:

High School Group Type Humiliating Hazing Substance Abuse Hazing Dangerous Hazing
Sports Teams & Clubs X X X
Music, Art & Theater Groups X X X
Church Groups X X X
Cheerleading Squads X X
Social Organizations X
X
Vocational Groups X
X
Political Groups
X
Scholastic Groups

X
Percentage of Students Hazed to Join Specific Types of Organizations*
Sports Teams & Clubs 24%
Music, Art or Theater Groups 8%
Church Groups 7%
* To better understand the chart on Percentage of Students Hazed to Join Specific Organizations, consider two key factors: the number of students who join an organization, and the percent of students who are hazed to join that group. For example, only 7% of the total population reported being hazed to join a church group yet, because a large number belong to church groups, that 7% represents 235,091 children. Although vocational groups and cheerleading squads all hazed a larger percent of new members than church groups, many more students were involved in church groups (29% of the total population) than the other groups (vocation squads at 8% and cheerleading squads at 15%). This means the number of students hazed to join a church group is greater than the number of students hazed to join vocational grous or cheerleading squads. Scholastic groups involve a great many student, and yet, the percent of members subjected to hazing was extremely low. Oddly though, when scholastic groups do haze, they tend toward dangerous hazing activities.
Source: Alfred University 2000 Study.
   
The Age When High School Students Reported First Being Hazed
9 years of age or under 10%
10 - 12 years of age 15%
13 - 15 years of age 61%
16 - 18 years of age 15%
Source: Alfred University 2000 Study.
   
Why High School Students Participate in Hazing
It was fun / exciting 48%
We felt closer as a group 44%
I got to prove myself 34%
I just went along with it 34%
I was scared to say no 16%
I wanted revenge 12%
I didn't know what was happening 9%/
Adults do it too 9%/
Source: Alfred University 2000 Study.
   
Why High School Students Don't Tell Adults about Hazing
Forty percent of high school students would not inform adults about hazing incidents, which explains why adults typically learn about these episodes when serious physical or psychological injuries occur.
There's no one to tell. Who would I tell? 36%
It's not a problem. Sometimes accidents happen. 28%
Adults wouldn't know how to handle it. 27%
Other kids would make my life miserable. 24%
I just wouldn't tell on my friends, no matter what. 16%
Source: Alfred University 2000 Study.
   
Percentage of High School Students Hazed Who Suffered Negative Consequences
Nearly three quarters of the high school students who reported being hazed stated they suffered at least one negative consequence.
Got into a fight 24%
Was injured 23%
Fought with my parents 22%
Did poorly in school 21%
Hurt someone else 20%
Missed school, practice, work, or a meeting 19%
Committed a crime 16%
Considered suicide 15%
Became sick 12%
Quit going out with friends 11%
Got in trouble with police 10%
Was convicted of a crime 4%
Other negative consequences 12%*
* The "other" negative consequences included: became depressed, cried all the time, was completely miserable, fought with my family, was uncomfortable, was tormented throughout high school, suffered lowered self-esteem, was insulted, had an emotional break down, or sustained internal bruising.
Source: Alfred University 2000 Study.
   
Few High School Students Initially or Later Reject Hazing
Fear of hazing led to decision not to join a group 13%
Quit a group because of hazing 7%
Source: Alfred University 2000 Study.

High school students, by and large, don't have a good understanding of what hazing is. Only 15% initially stated they were hazed, but twice that percentage later reported committing dangerous acts or abusing substances when accepted into some group. Almost 44% said they didn't know whether hazing was or was not legal in their own state. Surprisingly, hazing was as prevalent in states which outlawed the practice as elsewhere. Florida Statute 1006.63 prohibits hazing. Even when nobody is harmed, persons found guilty of inducing others to participate in hazing can be sentenced up to 364 days in jail. When hazing results in serious bodily injury or death, prison terms resulting from hazing charges can last as long as five years. Florida's anti-hazing law does not stop prosecutors from filing criminal counts permitting even longer prison terms, such as homicide charges. Despite potential terms of incarceration, long probationary periods, fines and criminal convictions which make it difficult to obtain employment due to pre-hiring background checks, students in informal groups and well-structured organizations continue to demand that their peers participate in events capable of causing psychological and physical harm, and from time to time, even deaths. Judges are not permitted to allow defendants charged with criminal hazing offenses to offer as legal defenses that persons they are accused of hazing consented to participate in risky behaviors.

Hazing, which involves mean-spirited demands which harass, humiliate or demean others, is not only bothersome and annoying, it is frequently psychologically harmful and sometimes quite dangerous. Ironically, those injured when hazed, due to shame or not wanting to cause harm to come to those who put them in peril, often lie to doctors about what caused their injuries, according to Michelle Finkel, MD, whose report was published in 2002 in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. This led Finkel to conclude that hazing victims have much in common with persons injured by domestic violence. Finkel said physicians need to be particularly suspicious of explanations for non-typical injuries occurring during club, group or team events. Among collegians, alcohol plays a role in 65 to 95 percent of hazing incidents, was involved in 80% of paralysis injuries and nearly 90 percent of deaths, according to a 1998 study by the National Intrafraternity Council. Though middle and high school students find it more difficult than college students to obtain alcohol, drinking sometimes plays a role in hazing incidents involving these younger students.

Lawsuits for Hazing Incidents

Students 18 years of age and older may file lawsuits under their own name. Parents may file lawsuits in their own names on behalf of children 17 years of age and younger, and on behalf of sons or daughters of any age who have died in hazing incidents. When hazing occurs in high school or middle school, lawsuits typically name as the defendant the school or school district. Lawsuits involving non-fraternity or non-sorority college hazing incidents, such as those involving marching bands, and other campus clubs or organizations, are usually filed against the college or university itself. When students are injured or killed in fraternity or sorority hazing tragedies, the local chapter and the National Organization it is a member of are sued. Depending upon case facts, fraternity or sorority hazing lawsuits may also name the college or university as a defendant, too. Sometimes, hazing lawsuits involving all types of school organizations name specific student members as co-defendants. While the students themselves rarely have sufficient money to pay for out of court settlements or trial judgments, their parents or homeowners insurance coverage of the parents' homes may be a source of financial recovery. Depending upon case facts, fraternity or sorority hazing lawsuits may also name the college or university, too. Faculty members serving as advisors to organizations accused of hazing are frequently named as co-defendants.

Some Lawsuits Filed Against College Fraternities & Specific Members:

In lawsuits against colleges or universities or the National Organization a fraternity or sorority chapter was affiliated with, its typically alleged officials knew or should have known that hazing was occurring at the fraternity or sorority chapter. Lawsuits naming the chapter itself accuse the organization of negligence. Students who are named specifically in these lawsuits are cited for their personal misconduct.

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology provided $6 million to the parents of an 18-year-old freshman who died from an alcohol related hazing incident. Later, the local fraternity, its National Chapter and certain members paid an additional $1.75 million.
  • A former member of Florida A & M University's marching band was so harshly paddled during a 1991 initiation ceremony, one of his kidneys stopped functioning and he underwent four surgeries. After settling with FAMU for a confidential sum, he obtained a $1.8 million trial verdict against five of the males jurors found responsible for causing him to be injured.

  • An Austin, TX fraternity, its National Organization and individual members agreed to pay $1.1 million for a hazing incident which left him with a cracked skull and brain injuries.

  • Parents of a fraternity pledge who died in a 1994 hazing incident obtained $1.4 million in 2007 from a fraternity chapter at Southeast State University, its faculty advisors and specific members. When seeing the teen was foaming at the mouth, fraternity members summoned 911 ambulance assistance. A coroner's report determined the teen had broken ribs, a lacerated kidney and bruises over his chest, neck back and arms. Fraternity members initially claimed they put the unconscious teen to bed after he was hurt during a football game.

  • Two young women obtained confidential settlements against their sorority chapter, its National Organization and certain members for third degree burns suffered during a hazing ritual, which included simulated sexual acts.

Some Lawsuits Filed Against High Schools or School Boards:

These lawsuits typically allege that school officials knew or should have known that hazing was occurring in the group which their daughter or son was a participant in.

  • A 14 year old former football player who was physically and sexually abused at a summer football camp was provided with a confidential settlement by the Willingboro, PA Board of Education. The boy's attorney stated older teens had him "ripped from his bed, held down, punched, kicked and sodomized with an object." Court records indicated the victim incurred about $3 million in medical bills and other expenses.

  • In multiple hazing incidents, older and stronger wrestlers sodomized a high school freshman with a broomstick. When other students learned of the attacks, they repeatedly taunted him and called him gay. Ohio's Stow-Munroe Falls City School District settled for an undisclosed sum of money.

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