Physical and sexual violence are becoming more common in high school hazing rituals involving sports teams, said Hank Nuwer, a professor at Franklin (Ind.) College and an author of four books on the subject of hazing.
“When I started researching into high schools in the late ’80s there were a handful — maybe 10 of these sexual assault cases,” he said last week via telephone. “The first one in about 1982, there was a single incident, and to this year, they’ve really proliferated.”
Nuwer said he is in the process of compiling a database as part of his blog at www.hazingprevention.org.
“It’s happening over and over,” he said. “They’re coming in at the rate of two to three per week. ... It’s not uncommon any longer.”
Nuwer said he has been following similar cases of high school sports hazings in New Mexico, New York, Michigan, Indiana and Arkansas over the past few years.
He also said hazing to some extent has become a part of the darker side of a subculture of sports — from professional teams on down. Many teams initiate rookies with practical jokes or menial jobs as part of establishing a pecking order.
“One part of (that subculture) is the team bonding that is encouraged by coaches, the communitas,” he said. “Taking individuals from diverse backgrounds, throwing them together in kind of a hierarchy with veterans and newcomers, the veterans having a belief that the new guys need to be put in their place. Where do you draw the line?
“Sexual assault or demeaning or beatings doesn’t help community. That’s where the falseness of it is,” he said. “But some people have bought into this. And that makes it a threat and a reality to sports itself.”
Like other abuse crimes, Nuwer said getting an accurate number of the frequency of such events may be impossible, because victims may be scared to report them.
“In interviewing sports psychologists, they think it’s the tip of the iceberg because boys are afraid to report, because of shame and retribution,” he said. “There’s no way of tracking how many occur where the perpetrators laugh it off and the victims are just stunned into silence. It often becomes a second humiliation where kids take pictures of this stuff, and somebody reports it, whether it’s a parent or another schoolmate.”