The following resource was originally written by Michelle Chaney, M.D., MScPH for The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at The Massachusetts General Hospital.
Despite the illegalization of hazing in 44 states and the implementation of anti-hazing efforts on school campuses across the U.S., these high risk and oftentimes life-threatening practices continue not only in Greek life and among various sports teams, but also in marching bands, military groups and even honor societies. Students commonly perceive these initiation rituals as harmless fun and group-bonding exercises; however, they can progress to downright dangerous behaviors that may even result in fatalities—as in the case of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion, Jr., who died following a beating by fellow band members during a hazing ritual in 2011.
This tragic death has brought the topic of hazing back into the spotlight recently, as former Florida A&M band member Dante Martin has since been sentenced to more than six years in prison for manslaughter and felony hazing, the longest sentence ever in a collegiate hazing death. He was one of fifteen individuals charged, but the only to receive prison time thus far.
Seven students from Sayreville War Memorial High School in New Jersey also made headlines when they were charged with sex crimes in a football hazing investigation: four freshmen members of the football team were allegedly held against their will, while the upperclassmen defendants improperly touched them in a sexual manner. The seven students have been suspended, and the football season cancelled.
You may be asking at this point: What actually is hazing?
According to NJ.com’s Vernal Coleman, Sayreville High School has fired football coach George Najjar in the wake of the hazing and sexual assault incidents that came to light last October. According to reports, four separate hazing incidents where underclassmen were sexually assaulted occurred in a 10-day span in the team’s locker room last September. According to Coleman, Najjar’s coaching position was posted by the district this morning, while his status as a teacher in the school district remains uncertain. Najjar was placed on leave from his teaching job last October.
As we’ve noted previously, “not all assault is hazing, but make no mistake, assault is one of the many weapons used in the hazing arsenal.” In the wake of the Sayreville hazing incident, however, some commentators failed to see the connection, dismissing hazing as harmless pranks and antics. Therefore, we are incredibly supportive of the 30 Vermont lawmakers who recently co-sponsored legislation that recognizes the link between hazing and sexual assault and seeks to strengthen Vermont’s existing hazing law.
According to Mike Donoghue of The Burlington Free Press, on Tuesday, February 2nd, the Vermont House of Representatives Human Services Committee received a briefing on a new anti-hazing bill. The bill is entitled the “Jordan Preavy Bill”, named for Milton High School student-athlete Jordan Preavy who experienced horrific, humiliating hazing as a new member of the high school football team in 2011. According to the Chittenden County Vermont Unit for Special Investigations, Preavy was held down by his teammates and sexually assaulted with a broomstick. Tragically, Jordan committed suicide in August of 2012. At the time of his death, Jordan’s family was yet to learn about the hazing incident and now believes that the emotional scars played a role in his decision to take his life.
Seeking to strengthen the existing Vermont hazing law, the “Jordan Preavy Bill” would make the prompt reporting of child abuse and sexualized hazing mandatory for school administrators, teachers, and other school employees. These individuals would have to notify both the police and the Vermont Department for Children and Families within 24 hours of learning about a hazing incident. As Donoghue notes, “Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan has said repeatedly the current reporting law is poorly worded and fails to ensure children can be properly protected. Donovan said he believes he could not file criminal charges against any Milton School officials for failure to report the misconduct under the current law.” While the debate about who is and isn’t a mandatory reporter remains ongoing, the Preavy family has been an advocate for having coaches and other members of the athletic department included amongst the list of those who must report such incidents.
StopHazing co-founder Dr. Elizabeth Allan recently gave a presentation at the 2014 Federal Bullying Prevention Summit, an event that brought together over 600 individuals, both in-person and online, to share and discuss issues pertaining to bullying in the United States. A common theme that emerged throughout the course of the conference was the importance of collaboration on both bullying and issues related to bullying. Along with Darlene Johnson, the Associate Director of the Office on Violence Against Women, Dr. Allan was invited to discuss high risk behaviors related to bullying, presenting on hazing in high schools. Over the course of her 15 minute talk, Dr. Allan discussed what is hazing, the differences between hazing and bullying, examples of high school hazing incidents, and how to overcome barriers and challenges associated with high school hazing and implement effective prevention programs. Attendees were also provided with an additional report that provided supplementary materials and information.