Hazing bans being extended to high schools
(Pa.) Thirty years after Pennsylvania law banned hazing on college campuses, the state this week moved to extend that prohibition to high schools – a decision some health professionals say is long overdue.
“Children have died as a result of hazing practices, and you can’t look the other way,” Phyllis Agran, a pediatric gastroenterologist and professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, said in an interview. “When adults or colleges or other educational institutions accept the practice and don’t have policies against hazing, then it can become more prevalent.”
Three high school senior football players were charged as juveniles earlier this month with assault, unlawful restraint and making terroristic threats after holding down a freshman player and penetrating his rectum with a broom handle in a Pennsylvania school locker room.
Prosecutors said the incident happened on what the team labeled “No-Gay Thursday,” part of weekly rituals in which some players would engage in forced sexual behaviors with teammates.
Although there was no evidence that any adult knew about the hazing in Pennsylvania, the entire varsity and junior varsity coaching staff was fired, with school officials citing insufficient supervision in the locker room – a condition that allowed the ongoing hazing to occur.
Hazing has been banned in 44 states, but not all laws extend to the high school level. The practice commonly includes forced binge drinking, sleep deprivation, sexual acts, humiliation, isolation, beating, consuming non-food substances or items, and simulated drowning.
Nearly 75 percent of high school students surveyed by Alfred University in 2000 said that the lingering effects of hazing – including poor grades, difficulty eating or sleeping and feelings of guilt and anger – can continue long after the physical wounds had healed.
Since December, four high school wrestlers in Oklahoma have been charged with raping two other wrestlers in a school bus on the way home from a tournament; three basketball players were charged with raping another player with a pool cue in Tennessee; and in a separate Pennsylvania case, a high school basketball team is under investigation for a hazing ritual involving a stick which older teammates have allegedly used to sexually abuse younger students for more than a decade.
What may begin as seemingly harmless behavior tends to escalate to such extremes due to children falling into a herd mentality, accepting hazing as a necessary aspect of team building or hearing parents or older siblings glorify past experiences with hazing rituals.
“Adults should not tolerate modeling that for children or seeing children engage in that behavior,” Agran said. “Just as we have zero tolerance for bullying, this is a form of bullying and we should have zero tolerance.”
Disciplinary policies for hazing in Pennsylvania high schools may include probation, suspension, expulsion or the imposition of fines under the law signed Tuesday by Gov. Tom Wolf, and also applies to instances off campus or on other school property.
Such policies are something Agran said she would like to see more of, as well as professional development addressing the issue.
“We need to have policies at the very lowest level – even in elementary schools – that forbid hazing and frame it as a crime,” Agran said. “Any professional dealing with children needs to be trained on what hazing is, what the consequences are, how to intervene and how to prevent it.”