Hazing: Rite of passage or criminal act? - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, Florida-


Hazing: Rite of passage or criminal act?

Hazing is a traditional rite of passage for some, but the harmless pranks of yesteryear have evolved into disturbing acts of physical and sexual violence. Here's what you need to know to empower teenagers to say "no" to hazing.

In Erie, Pennsylvania, a high school wrestler accuses his teammates of urinating on him in the shower, and performing other lurid acts. In Madison, Ohio, hazing amongst football players leads to allegations of sexual abuse. And in Greenfield, Iowa, a 16-year-old teammate is sodomized in his high school locker room with a jump rope handle.

Author and anti-hazing advocate Hank Nuwer says hazing has not only increased over the years, but it's gotten more severe.

"Students need to know that no hazing is good; that even the smallest, slightest hazing in the hands of any perpetrator can get way out of hand," says Nuwer.

"Julie," who wants to remain anonymous, had no idea joining her school's drama club would involve a repulsive initiation ritual.

"We ended up having to drink blended goldfish in front of everyone," says Julie. "I saw my teacher pour the goldfish into the blender. And I was just freaking out. Everyone was. I could see the terror in everyone's eyes. It was disgusting. I thought I was going to throw up."

Ironically, a year later, Julie joined in and enjoyed hazing a new student. She saw nothing wrong with the goldfish ritual that had sickened her before.

"I felt very empowered," says Julie. "It was disgusting, but it did feel good making someone go through what I had to go through."

Nuwer says such acts can be not only traumatizing, but also unhealthy.

"It's bizarre, its unusual, its disgusting," says Nuwer. "There is a tendency to cover it up because this is criminal behavior."

Now, high school principals around the country like Janet Anderson are moving to prevent hazing.

"We said this just can't happen," says Anderson. "This isn't going to be okay. And we felt like we needed to define it for students, help them understand what it was, and the effect on others, and then help them stop doing it."

Anderson created a strict anti-hazing policy. She says the key to ending hazing is to get kids to speak out against it.

"It's not a good idea not to tell," says Anderson. "Sometimes people say, 'Oh, I didn't want to tell because it might make things worse.' We have to know what's happening. We need to be told. And then we can get involved, and we do take it seriously."

Principal Anderson advocates other school administrators to follow her lead and officially ban hazing. Encourage kids to tell and make sure they know that hazing is wrong and in some cases, criminal.

After all, graduating with a felony charge is no way to start out in life.

Forty-four states have laws that ban hazing. The states that do not are Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota and Wyoming.

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