Hazing used to be one of a number of activities that society tolerated with a "boys will be boys" attitude. This has all changed in recent years as stories about deaths from alcohol poisoning, injuries, and sexual assaults have cast the practice in an ugly light.
The organizations that haze are typically secretive about their induction activities, and the individuals seeking acceptance within a group are often unwilling to blow the whistle on the group hazing them. Despite these obstacles, the serious consequences of hazing have forced educational institutions, state legislators, and students to reconsider their attitudes about hazing traditions.
What Is Hazing?
Hazing is most common as a form of initiation, but even full members of organizations may be subjected to hazing to maintain their membership or as a penalty for breaking the organization's rules. Hazing activities often involve humiliation, discomfort, and the excessive consumption of alcohol. Some forms of hazing are not clearly recognized as such by either perpetrator or victim. Regardless, there's a general consensus that hazing includes activities like:
Anti-Hazing Laws and School Policies
All but a handful of state governments have responded to the problem of hazing by passing anti-hazing laws. Although details vary from state-to-state, most statutes relating to hazing make the practice a misdemeanor crime punishable by a fine or even prison time. There are no federal laws relating to hazing, though this is likely because federal jurisdiction would not reach most of those involved in the practice rather than reflecting a lack of concern about the issue. Congress has considered legislation that would deny federal student aid to students who participated in hazing, and has established panels to investigate and eliminate hazing in the military.
Nearly every school has an explicit ban on hazing. Hazing can result in bad press and poor public perception about the quality of a school. Schools may also be liable for hazing that takes place, either because a school sponsored organization is carrying out the hazing, or because the school was negligent in protecting its students from hazing that it knew was occurring. Hazing that violates school policy may result in disciplinary action by the school resulting in students being barred from participation in extracurricular activities, suspension, expulsion, or referral of the matter to local law enforcement agencies.
In addition to the penalties associated with anti-hazing laws, victims of hazing often have additional claims for their injuries and emotional distress. Schools, fraternities, sports teams, and others may be responsible for ignoring complaints or otherwise negligently permitting hazing to take place. Finally, the details of a particular kind of hazing may result in both criminal charges and civil claims for damages.
Problems and Perceptions Surrounding Hazing
The problem with both state and school prohibitions is that the most dangerous forms of hazing tend to take place in private and under the cloak of secrecy. However, the existence of anti-hazing laws has contributed to the increasing number of lawsuits filed against fraternal organizations, sports teams, and the schools themselves.
Hazing has often been thought of in the context of the "Greek system" of collegiate fraternities and sororities. In response to this perception, most national organizations, such as the North-American Intrafraternity Conference, have established clear policies prohibiting hazing by member fraternities. However, hazing is not just a Greek issue. Sports teams are among the organizations most likely to haze, and the unfortunate death of a drum major at Florida A&M revealed that even some marching bands and performing arts societies have a system of hazing as dangerous as the more stereotypical Greek forms.
Lawsuits relating to hazing can be complicated and detail-specific. They can involve multiple parties, or multiple lawsuits in different kinds of courts. Contact a local attorney for assistance in determining who can be held liable for your hazing-related injuries.