A total joke or utter humiliation?

I could easily maintain a blog on masculinity, sexuality, and group violence titled Hazing: Things just got a little out of hand and fill it with postings of news stories from schools all over our country.

The news stories of team based and fraternity based violent and sexually humiliating hazing and initiation rituals are endless throughout the school year and easy to come by thanks to the internet.

For example, in today’s news there is a story out of Nevada about a wrestling team of five upperclassmen taking an underclassmen for a wild night of torture and humiliation while away at a tournament.

Five Churchill County High School wrestlers are alleged to have hazed a teammate during a trip to a Las Vegas tournament in December.

Austin Herzog, 18, along with two 16-year-olds and two 17-year-olds are allegedly responsible for the attack, according to Barbara Morgan, a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman.

She confirmed the victim was taken out of his hotel room by the alleged assailants, pants stripped, taped and urinated on.

There are more details in the actual article about the violence, though not quite enough to explain the suggested potential sexual assault charges.

Looking at the common patterns of ‘initiation’ violence that emerge in all of these news stories hazing most often includes: group assault; larger boys (occasionally girls) humiliating smaller and younger boys; spectator violence with many onlookers/photos/texts about the incident; sexual domination and humiliation; and feminization of the target.

Today’s article can also illustrate two other common patterns in many of these hazing stories. First the presumption that this behavior is only problematic or criminal if one of the ‘participants’ a.k.a. the victim determines it is problematic. 

The he didn’t say it bothered him defense.

Would this be said of other social and behavioral boundaries we place upon youth in educational settings? How about if this had been a late night situation of underage drinking? Using marijuana? Breaking into another room and ransacking it? No.  Those acts would be considered school misconduct and crimes no matter how any student involved ‘felt’ about them.

But physically attacking someone, holding them against their will, and causing harm to their body, well there is commonly speculation and debate about whether these behaviors should be considered intolerable by authorities.  Everyone from parents, to educators, coaches, and in this instance even the criminal system expects one of the students to articulate the boundaries of appropriate conduct in this instance.

For example in the current article a police spokesperson suggests that the crux of whether this witnessed and confirmed assault is or is not criminal behavior falls upon the victim:

“It just depends on what this young man wants to do. It all depends on how this kid felt. Was he feeling this was a total joke or utter humiliation. I don’t know.”

Seriously. Haven’t you heard the joke about getting held down and urinated on by five of your bigger-stronger buddies. You know after they strip and ‘spatula’ you – whatever that is.   It’s pretty funny and if your parents aren’t planning to move you out of the community and put you in another high school you better laugh.

The second pattern that is pervasive in hazing news stories is that of silence, indifference, or even culpability on the part of the educators at the location of the incident.

Sources said in the News 4 report that school officials knew of the incident but did not report it when the team returned from the tournament. However, Sharla Hales, Churchill County School District’s attorney, said she could not comment or confirm the officials’ knowledge, and the claim remains unsubstantiated. Gehman said the FPD is investigating whether or not there was a failure to report the alleged hazing.

These of course are the professional educators waiting to know whether or not the victim was bothered by the attack.  I mean, lets not make a problem here if there isn’t one, amIright…

And lets not give these educators, coaches, team parents etc. too much credit as bastions of liberal social policy when it comes to other behaviors for student conduct.  There are handbooks full of specific conduct policies students will get expelled for and added contracts athletes sign promising even more limitations on their behaviors. 

But this sort of behavior, well, this is just horseplay… this is just things getting out of hand…  this is something that is best left unsaid on far too many occasions.

But no, even though I get these hazing stories far to regularly via my google news feeds,  I won’t be starting the Hazing blog any time soon. 

My heart and mind can’t take thinking about these stories that often.  But today – today I’ll linger and consider some boy in Nevada who has to decide how much more he will give up by speaking his truth to would be educators.  Has to speculate on the personal value and risk of expressing a desire to press charges.  Has to consider how his complaint will be handled by community members and professionals who already may have implied that this event wasn’t terribly important or concerning to them.

Today I’ll think about what that teaches him and to every other kid in town who knows this story all too well.  Today I’ll think about what sort of options are left to the next kid who wants to be part of that team.  About what sort of friendships are made available to boys when this is an accepted form of camaraderie.  About what sort of ethic is available to administrators and coaches who normalize and perhaps have lived through similar initiations in their past.

And all the while I will try no to think about my nephews, my daughters, and all the young people I love.  Too late.  They are always with me.

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