Browerville tries to make sense of hazing, sex-assault case. Article by reporter Pam Louwagie is exceptionally well sourced, well-written. Sept. 1, 2012–Moderator Hank Nuwer
Tiny Browerville searches for way to move past allegations of hazing by members of the high school football team.
BROWERVILLE, MINN. – The high school football player sat on a chair in his driveway, wanting it all to go away.
Allegations that his teammates sexually assaulted other players last season have made life difficult in this central Minnesota town of 790, where rumors have been swirling for months.
Team members didn’t want anybody to get in trouble, the player said, but they wanted a stop to the acts, described in court papers as touching teammates mostly through their athletic shorts, sometimes holding them down, sometimes digitally penetrating them. Now three players have been charged with felonies and some students are embarrassed to wear their Browerville Tigers T-shirts in neighboring towns, careful to avoid inviting ridicule.
“Everybody knew that it was bad, but they didn’t think it would turn into something this big,” said the player, who didn’t want his name used. “All the kids want it to be over with.”
But as defense attorneys now allege that such assaults were part of a common culture of horseplay and hazing that’s gone on for years at the school, the case is only beginning. The town, meanwhile, regardless of what happens in court, is left figuring out what to make of it all and how to prevent it in the future.
Could widespread assaults have happened without any adults knowing? Or was it the work of a few bullies? In an age when such assaults are joked about on television and the Internet, were players confused about what is a crime?
“It makes it a little bit harder to wrap your head around,” said Julie Kapsch, of the nonprofit Hands of Hope, which advocates for sexual assault victims and others in Todd County. “I think one of the hardest things is the stigma out there … that boys will be boys.”
Cases of sexual assault-type hazing are popping up around the country more frequently, said Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor at Franklin College in Indiana who has written books on hazing.
Boys typically don’t talk about it because they’re ashamed and “don’t want their own sexuality questioned,” he said. Defendants are often allowed to plead to lesser crimes.
“The number of cases is astronomical,” Nuwer said. “The number of cases where people actually went to jail, I can cite them almost by memory.”
Horseplay turning awkward?
Attorney Chris Karpan, who represents one of the defendants, said the problem in Browerville is “systemic” and shouldn’t be handled by charging only a few kids, but should be addressed holistically.
The sheriff’s office began investigating in April, after a parent told a school official of an incident at a local lake, where members of the football team allegedly dunked, held and sexually assaulted a teammate under water.
Former seniors Seth Kellen and Connor Burns and a player charged as a juvenile all face criminal sexual conduct charges. Kellen, 19, is accused in five criminal complaints of numerous assaults on multiple victims, including some inside the central Minnesota high school. Burns, 18, is charged in assaults in a hotel room during the state basketball tournament.
Attorney Ryan Garry, who represents Burns, wrote in court papers that “the actions were like tradition or initiation.”