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Editorial on High School Hazing: Charlottesville

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By The Daily Progress

Published: April 19, 2009

Concerned about hazing at your child’s college?

You might want to look a little deeper, and maybe closer to home — at your son’s or daughter’s high school.

A major study of college hazing has turned up a disturbing result: 47 percent of college freshmen have already been hazed in high school.

Also disturbing is the fact that, despite greater attention to the problem, little progress apparently is being made. A similar survey in 2000 revealed that 48 percent of high-schoolers belonging to groups had been hazed.

Hazing has been defined as harassment, humiliation or abuse as part of a group initiation. Hazing ranges from silly stunts to dangerous demands. Students have died from alcohol poisoning after binges that were part of, say, fraternity initiations.

Hazing is officially banned at recognized fraternities and sororities, but the practice still goes on — either secretly at recognized Greek houses or at unofficial, unrecognized houses that call themselves fraternities.

And, more and more, incidents of high school hazing are emerging. In 2003, the problem hit the news in a big way with reports of high school girls injuring younger ones — and we’re talking stitches and broken bones — and pouring paint and excrement on them while spectators cheered.

Just recently, Greene County disciplined two football players for a hazing incident, one of whom was expelled; criminal charges also were placed.

In the same e-mail announcing the hazing incident, the school superintendent told parents about an incident in which an adult allegedly had inappropriate sexual contact with students.

A county woman later was charged and convicted for having consensual sex with one minor. Because the case was heard in private to protect the minor, no details ever emerged to confirm that the sex case was linked to the hazing. How-ever, some form of hazing did occur, and was acknowledged by county officials.

“We’re still having hazing incidents in this country in high schools,” said Elliot Hopkins of the National Federa-tion of State High School Associations. “They’re getting more brutal. They’re getting more sexual. And they’re being pushed down into middle schools.”

There’s the next frontier, the next area of concern: middle schools. It’s not just college hazing we need to worry about, and it’s not just high school hazing — now it’s middle school.

Experts say more education is needed on this dangerous dynamic. For instance, as bullying has gotten more attention from legislators and parents — including in Virginia — hazing has taken a back seat. Some people even think they are the same thing and that by passing legislation on one issue, the state is addressing both.

Hazing involving sexual or other abuse can affect a student’s relationships for the rest of his or her life — marriage, work, friendship, anything that involves partnership or authority. The victim may develop a warped view of relationships and learn to fear authority.

Hazing seldom is not the harmless prank we wish it were; it is a physically and psychologically dangerous practice. We must see it for what it is, before we can face the need to stop it.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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