Hazing is the practice of rituals and other activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group. Hazing is seen in many different types of social groups, including gangs, sports teams, schools, military units, and fraternities and sororities. In the United States and Canada, hazing is often associated with Greek-letter organizations. Hazing is often prohibited by law and may comprise either physical or psychological abuse. It may also include nudity or sexually-oriented offenses.
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In some continental European languages, terms with a christening theme or etymology are preferred (e.g. "baptême" in French, "doop" in Dutch — mostly used in Flanders) or variations on a theme of naïveté and the rite of passage such as a derivation from a term for freshman (e.g. "bizutage" in French, "ontgroening" (de-green[horn]ing) in Dutch —mostly used in the Netherlands—, "novatada" in Spanish, from "novato," meaning newcomer) or a combination of both, such as in the Finnish "mopokaste" (literally "moped baptism," "moped" being the nickname for freshmen, stemming from the concept that they would be forced to drive the children bicycle or tri-cycle). In Latvian, the word "iesvētības", which literally means "in-blessings," is used, also standing for religious rites of passage, especially confirmation. In Swedish, the term used is "nollning", literally "zeroing." In Portugal, the term "praxe", which literally means "practice" or "habit," is used for freshmen initiation. In the Italian military, instead, the term used was "nonnismo", from "nonno" (literally "grandfather"), a jargon term used for the soldiers who had already served for most of their draft period. A similar equivalent term exists in the Russian military, where a hazing phenomenon knowing as Dedovshchina exists, meaning roughly "grandfather" or the slang term "gramps" (referring to the senior corps of soldiers in their final year of conscription). At education establishments in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, this practice involves existing students baiting new students and is called Ragging. In Polish schools, hazing is known as "kocenie" (literally catting, coming from the noun "kot" - "cat". It often features cat-related activities, like competetive milk drinking. Other popular tasks include measuring a long distance (i.e. hallways) with matches.
Often most or all of the endurance or the more serious ordeal is concentrated in a single session, which may be called hell night, or prolonged to a hell week, sometimes again at the pledge's birthday (e.g. by birthday spanking), but some traditions keep terrorizing pledges over a long period, resembling fagging.
In Israel, the practice is called "zubur" (an Arabic-derived Hebrew slang word roughly equivalent to 'willie') and exists primarily in Israeli Defense Force combat units and the Israel Air Force. Unlike hazing in many other places, "zubur" is typically used to mark the achievement of important milestones (in an ironic 'don't get too big for your britches' way), such as after a pilot's first solo flight.
According to one of the largest US National Surveys regarding hazing including over 60,000 student athletes from 2,400 colleges and universities;
"Over 325,000 athletes at more than 1,000 National Collegiate Athletic Association schools in the US participated in intercollegiate sports during 1998-99. Of these athletes:
• More than a quarter of a million experienced some form of hazing to join a college athletic team.• One in five participated exclusively in positive initiations, such as team trips or ropes courses."
• One in five was subjected to unacceptable and potentially illegal hazing. They were kidnapped, beaten or tied up and abandoned. They were also forced to commit crimes – destroying property, making prank phone calls or harassing others.
• Half were required to participate in drinking contests or alcohol-related hazing.
• Two in five consumed alcohol on recruitment visits even before enrolling.
• Two-thirds were subjected to humiliating hazing, such as being yelled or sworn at, forced to wear embarrassing clothing or forced to deprive themselves of sleep, food or personal hygiene.
The survey found that 79% of college athletes experienced some form of hazing to join their team, yet 60% of the student-athletes respondents indicated that they would not report incidents of hazing.>
Some chapters of Greek letter organizations have developed complex hazing rituals that range from demeaning tasks to embarrassing ceremonies. These practices are most common in, but not limited to, North American schools. Other groups within university life that have hazing rituals include competition teams, fan clubs, social groups, secret societies and even certain service clubs. While hazing is less common in high schools, some secondary education institutions have developed hazing rituals.
The armed forces have long had hazing rituals, which often involve violence and punishments. The United States military defines hazing as unnecessarily exposing a fellow soldier to an act which is cruel, abusive, oppressive, or harmful. In the modern western military, which combines discipline with welfare priorities, initiation practices can cause controversy. There is a tradition in many military – especially elite – corps of subjecting the newly trained ranks to a hell night-like "joining run," a macho preparation of men in the prime of their lives for the ordeals of warfare, going beyond what most civilians (and even many service personnel) would find acceptable; it usually combines humiliation (such as nudity) with physical endurance.
Police forces, especially those with a paramilitary tradition, or sub-units of police forces such as tactical teams, may also have hazing rituals. Rescue services, such as lifeguards or air-sea rescue teams may have hazing rituals.
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The practice of ritual abuse among social groups is not clearly understood. This is partly due to the secretive nature of the activities, especially within collegiate fraternities and sororities, and in part a result of long-term acceptance of hazing. Thus, it has been difficult for researchers to agree on the underlying social and psychological mechanisms that perpetuate hazing. In military circles hazing is sometimes assumed to test recruits under situations of stress and hostility. Although in no way a recreation of combat, hazing does put people into stressful situations that they are unable to control, which allegedly should weed out those weaker members prior to being put in situations where failure to perform will cost lives. A portion of the military training course known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) simulates as closely as is feasible the physical and psychological conditions of a POW camp.
The problem with this approach, according to opponents, is that the stress and hostility comes from inside the group, and not from outside as in actual combat situation, creating suspicion and distrust towards the superiors and comrades-in-arms. Willing participants may be motivated by a desire to prove to senior soldiers their stability in future combat situations, making the unit more secure, but blatantly brutal hazing can in fact produce negative results, making the units more prone to break, desert or mutiny than those without hazing traditions, as observed in the Russian army in Chechnya, where units with the strongest traditions of dedovschina were the first to break and desert under enemy fire. At worst, hazing may lead into fragging incidents.
Colleges and Universities sometimes avoid publicizing hazing incidents for fear of damaging institutional reputations or incurring financial liability to victims.
In a 1999 study, a survey of 3,293 collegiate athletes, coaches, athletic directors and deans found a variety of approaches to prevent hazing, including strong disciplinary and corrective measures for known cases, implementation of athletic, behavioral, and academic standards guiding recruitment; provisions for alternative bonding and recognition events for teams to prevent hazing; and law enforcement involvement in monitoring, investigating, and prosecuting hazing incidents. Hoover's research suggested half of all college athletes are involved in alcohol-related hazing incidents, while one in five are involved in potentially illegal hazing incidents. Only another one in five was involved in what Hoover described as positive initiation events, such as taking team trips or running obstacle courses.
"Athletes most at risk for any kind of hazing for college sports were men; non-Greek members; and either swimmers, divers, soccer players, or lacrosse players. The campuses where hazing was most likely to occur were primarily in eastern or southern states with no anti-hazing laws. The campuses were rural, residential, and had Greek systems," Hoover wrote. (Hoover uses the term "Greek" to refer to U.S.-style fraternities and sororities.) Non-fraternity members were most at risk of hazing, Hoover reported. Football players are most at risk of potentially dangerous or illegal hazing, the study found. In the May issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Michelle Finkel, reported that hazing injuries are often not recognized for their true cause in emergency medical centers. The doctor said hazing victims sometimes hide the real cause of injuries out of shame or to protect those who caused the harm. In protecting their abusers, hazing victims can be compared with victims of domestic violence, Finkel wrote.
Finkel cites hazing incidents including "beating or kicking to the point of traumatic injury or death, burning or branding, excessive calisthenics, being forced to eat unpleasant substances, and psychological or sexual abuse of both males and females." Reported coerced sexual activity is sometimes considered "horseplay" rather than rape, she wrote. Finkel quoted from Hank Nuwer's book "Wrongs of Passage" which counted 56 hazing deaths between 1970 and 1999.
In November 2005, controversy arose over a video showing Royal Marines fighting naked and intoxicated as part of a hazing ritual. The fight culminated with one soldier receiving a kick to the face, rendering him unconscious. The victim, according to the BBC, said "It's just Marine humour". The Marine who leaked the video said "The guy laid out was inches from being dead." Under further investigation, the Marines had just returned from a six-month tour of Iraq, and were in their "cooling down" period, in which they spend two weeks at a naval base before they are allowed back into society. The man who suffered the kick to the head did not press charges.
In 2008, a national hazing study was conducted by Dr Elizabeth Allan and Dr Mary Madden from the University of Maine. This investigation is the most comprehensive study of hazing to date and includes survey responses from more than 11,000 undergraduate students at 53 colleges and universities in different regions of the U.S. and interviews with more than 300 students and staff at 18 of these campuses. Through the vision and efforts of many, this study fills a major gap in the research and extends the breadth and depth of knowledge and understanding about hazing. Ten initial findings are described in the report, Hazing in View: College Students at Risk. These include:
- More than half of college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience hazing.
- Nearly half (47%) of students have experienced hazing prior to coming to college.
- Alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and sex acts are hazing practices common across student groups.
History of extreme incidents
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Throughout history, hazing has resulted in several deaths and serious injuries. The following is a chronological list of some notable incidents where "hazing", some of which were deemed a criminal act and the law enacted to combat such acts.
- 1873: a New York Times article read "West Point.; "Hazing" at the Academy – An Evil That Should be Entirely Rooted Out"
- 1975: Rupa Rathnaseeli, a 22 year old female student of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka became paralyzed as a result of jumping from the second floor of the hostel "Ramanathan Hall" to escape the physical ragging carried out by older students. It was reported that she was about to have a candle inserted in her vagina just before she had jumped out of the hostel building. She committed suicide in 2002.
- 1978: Alfred University in western New York, student Chuck Stenzel died in a fraternity hazing incident from aspirated vomit while passed out following an evening of drinking at Klan Alpine fraternity. He had been transported to the frat house in a car trunk along with two other pledges.
- 1993-2007: in Indonesia, 35 people died as a result of hazing initiation rites in the Institute of Public Service (IPDN). The most recent was in April 2007 when Cliff Muntu died after being beaten by the seniors.
- 1997: Selvanayagam Varapragash – a first-year engineering student at University of Peradeniya was murdered on the campus due to hazing. He was subjected to sadistic ragging and in the post-mortem a large quantity of tooth paste was found in his rectum.
- 2004: In Sandwich, MA nine high school football players faced felony charges after a freshman teammate lost his spleen in a hazing ritual.
- 2005: Matthew Carrington was killed at Chico State University during a hazing activity on February 2, 2005.Korry, Elaine (November 14, 2005). "A Fraternity Hazing Gone Wrong". NPR. Matt's Law, named in Carrington's memory, was passed by the California legislature into law to eliminate hazing in California.
- 2005: The victim of a high-profile hazing attack in Russia, Andrei Sychyov, required the amputation of his legs and genitalia after he was forced to squat for four hours whilst being beaten and tortured by a military group on New Year's Eve, 2005.
- 2007: At Rider University, one fraternity pledge died and another was hospitalized with alcohol poisoning, during what a judge called, "knowingly or recklessly organized, promoted, facilitated or engaged in conduct which resulted in serious bodily injury." Five people were charged including two university administrators.
- 2007: On June 26 at the Tokisukaze stable, 17 year old Sumo wrestler Takashi Saito was beaten to death by his fellow rikishi with a beer bottle and metal baseball bat at the direction of his trainer, Jun'ichi Yamamoto. Though originally reported as heart failure, Saito's father demanded an autopsy, which uncovered evidence of the beating. Both Yamamoto and the other rikishi were charged with manslaughter.
- 2011: Two Andover High School basketball players were expelled and five were suspended for pressuring underclassmen to play "wet biscuit," where the loser was forced to eat a semen-soaked cookie."
- 2011: Thirteen students from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University attacked drum major Robert Champion on a bus after a marching band performance, beating him to death. Since the 2011 death, a series of reports of abuse and hazing within the band have been documented. In May of 2012, 2 faculty members resigned in connection with a hazing investigation and 13 people were charged with felony or misdemeanor hazing crimes. Eleven of those individuals face one count of third-degree felony hazing resulting in death, which is punishable by up to six years in prison. The FAMU incident prompted Florida Governor Rick Scott to order all state universities to examine their hazing and harassment policies in December. Scott also asked all university presidents to remind their students, faculty and staff "how detrimental hazing can be."
- 2012: At the University of Florida; nine students of a fraternity were accused of "striking the pledges with paddles and/or striking with hands and/or requiring the performance of calisthenics" on January 22, 2012. If convicted, these men could be sentenced to one year in prison and be forced to pay as much as a $1,000 fine.
- 2012: At La Puente High Schoolin California; three teens were charged with sexually hazing four high school soccer players.
- 2012: IA Northern Illinois University student died in a fraternity hazing incident. Twenty-two Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity members were charged in connection with the incident.
- 2012: In Plano, Illinois, five high school students were charged with felony sexual assault and battery over allegedly hazing three victims.
In the Philippines, hazing accompanied by any forms of temporary or permanent physical injuries (from light injuries to injuries resulting to death), sexual abuse (in any form) or any acts that lead to mental incapacity are punishable by law. Penalties vary depending on how serious the offense is.
In India, ragging is legally banned. However, implementation of the law remains problematic because victims rarely speak out. Recently, the Supreme Court of India directed the police to register criminal cases against those accused of ragging. State governments have also been instructed to take a tougher stance on ragging.
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Hazing activities can involve forms of ridicule and humiliation within the group or in public while others are akin to pranks. Spanking is done mainly in the form of paddling among fraternities, sororities and similar clubs, sometimes over a lap, a knee, furniture or a pillow, but mostly with the victim "assuming the position," i.e., simply bending over forward. A variation of this (also as punishment) is trading licks. This practice is also used in the military. Alternative modes (including bare-buttock paddling, strapping and switching, as well as mock forms of antiquated forms of physical punishments such as stocks, walking the plank and running the gauntlet) have been reported.
The hazee may be humiliated by being hosed or by sprinkler, buckets or hoses; covered with dirt or with (sometimes rotten) food, even urinated upon. Olive or baby oil may be used to "show off" the bare skin, for wrestling or just slipperiness, e.g., to complicate pole climbing. Cleaning may be limited to a dive into water, hosing down or even paddling the worst off. They may have to do tedious cleaning including swabbing the decks, cleaning the toilets with a toothbrush. In fraternities, pledges often must clean up a mess intentionally made by brothers which can include fecal matter, urine, and dead animals.
Servitude such as waiting on others (as at fraternity parties) or various other forms of housework, often with tests of obedience. In some cases, the hazee may be made to eat raw eggs, peppers, hot sauce, or drink too much alcohol. Some hazing even includes eating or drinking vile things such as bugs or rotting food.
The hazee may have to wear an imposed piece of clothing, outfit, item or something else worn by the victim in a way that would bring negative attention to the wearer. Examples include a uniform (e.g. toga); a leash and/or collar (also associated with bondage); infantile and other humiliating dress and attire.
Markings may also be made on clothing or bare skin. They are painted, written, tattooed or shaved on, sometimes collectively forming a message (one letter, syllable or word on each pledge) or may receive tarring and feathering (or rather a mock version using some glue) or branding.
Submission to senior members of the group is common. Abject "etiquette" required of pledges or subordinates may include prostration, kneeling, literal groveling, and kissing body parts.
Other physical feats may be required, such as calisthenics and other physical tests, such as mud wrestling, forming a human pyramid, or climbing a greased pole. Exposure to the elements may be required, such as swimming or diving in cold water or snow.
Orientation tests may be held, such as abandoning pledges without transport. Dares include jumping from some height, stealing from police or rival teams and obedience. Blood pinning among military aviators (and many other elite groups) to celebrate becoming new pilots by piercing their chests with the sharp pins of aviator wings.
On his first crossing the equator in military and commercial navigation, each "pollywog" is subjected to a series of tests usually including running and/or crawling a gauntlet of abuse and various scenes supposedly situated at King Neptune's court. A pledge auction is a variation on the slave auction, where people bid on the paraded pledges.
Hazing also occurs for apprentices in some trades. In printing, it consists of applying bronze blue to the apprentice's penis and testicles, a color made by mixing black printers ink and dark blue printers ink, which takes a long time to wash off. Similarly, mechanics get their groins smeared with old dirty grease.
Psychology, purpose, and effects
Hazing supposedly serves a deliberate purpose, of building solidarity. Psychologist Robert Cialdini uses the framework of consistency and commitment to explain the phenomenon of hazing, and the vigor and zeal to which practitioners of hazing persist in and defend these activities even when they are made illegal. Cialdini cites a 1959 study in which the researchers observed that "persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort." The 1959 study shaped the development of cognitive dissonance theory by Leon Festinger.
Beyond a legal approach, eliminating or lessening the dangers of hazing requires an understanding and application of psychological and sociological factors. This is especially critical when many view hazing as an effective way to teach respect and develop discipline and loyalty within the group, and believe that hazing is a necessary component of initiation rites.
Dissonance can produce feelings of group attraction or social identity among initiates after the hazing experience because they want to justify the effort used. Rewards during initiations or hazing rituals matter in that initiates who feel more rewarded express stronger group identity. As well as increasing group attraction, hazing can produce conformity among new members. Hazing could also increase feelings of affiliation because of the stressful nature of the hazing experience.
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- "Lifeguards fired for hazing new squad members". Racine, WI: The Journal Times. July 18, 1997. Retrieved 2013-06-03.
- Page, Eric S. (Aug 11, 2010). "City Probes Alleged Nude Lifeguard Hazing Incident". NBC San Diego. Retrieved 2013-06-03..
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- Nuwer, Hank (2001). Wrongs of Passage. Indiana University Press. ISBN 9780253214980.
- Davies, Catriona (2005-11-28). "Police investigate video of beaten marine". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2009-01-30.
- Smith, Richard (2005-12-09). "Exclusive: I was that rookie KO'D by marines". Mirror News (London). Retrieved 2013-05-28.
- Allan, Elizabeth; Mary Madden (11 March 2008). "Hazing in View: College Students at Risk" (PDF). University of Maine, College of Education and Human Development. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
- Sibley, John Langdon (1885), Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Harvard University, Volume 3 1678–1689., p. 303
- "WEST POINT.; "Hazing" at the Academy--An Evil That Should be Entirely Rooted Out-- A Plea for the Strangers". The New York Times. 7 June 1873.
- Senewiratne, Dr. Brian. "Ragging – My Experience". The Sunday Leader (Ratmalana, Sri Lanka). Retrieved December 17, 2013.
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- "Sumo trainer jailed over killing". BBC News. 29 May 2009. Retrieved 6 May 2014.
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- French Penal Code. Du Bizutage: articles 225-16-1 to 225-16-3
- The Philippine Anti-Hazing Law. From the Virtual Library of the Chan Robles Law Office
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