The Mepham story; a short history of hazing
[this is a pretty long piece, there's even footnotes; I've put most of it in the extended entry. It would probably be easier to read by clicking on this permalink]
Let's begin with the newest developments in the Mepham hazing. More importan than the hearing that took place yesterday is this telling paragraph from a New York Post article:
When three Long Island junior varsity football players were allegedly sodomized by three older players in a hazing ritual last month, an audience of as many as 15 other team members - some of whom were cheering - watched the assault, a lawyer in the case said yesterday.
Most of those witnesses, students at Mepham HS in Bellmore, have still not come forward after the attack during football camp in Wayne County.
This is not a case a three young men gone wrong; it's a case of mob mentality and entire group of people who make up that mob, and the culture that exists in that group.
Out of 15 people who watched, most of them have still not come forward. Knowing what they know - that one of the victims of the "hazingA" needed surgery to repair the damage; that what happened was not just a hazing but a series of crimes; that it's no longer a school district issue but involves police and courts, it is astounding that these people are not being more forthcoming with the details of what happened that night in Pennsylvania.
We need to ask two basic why? questions here: Why did these boys feel it was okay to perform these acts upon their younger teammates and why are most of the events still shrouded in mystery?
I had a conversation with a relative last night; he insists that the assaults were a sexual act and the boys who committed them - indeed, anyone who has committed a sexual assault such as those - have some kind of inferiority complex when it comes to sex or some deep rooted mental/sexual dysfuction. I vehemently disagreed with. An assault like a hazing that comes in the form of a sexual attack is about power and humiliation. It has nothing to do with sex at all. It's about making the victim feel as if he is powerless, a lesser being. It is to show that power is might and to establish some sort of bizarre pecking order within a group.
Why the witnesses remain silent is part of that order. If one wants to retain their established place in the heirarchy of the group, they must consent to what the group does; in a situation like this, if even one person performs the act, it's as if the whole group has performed it. To squeal on the person actually holding the instrument of assault is to squeal on yourself and to disturb the power that exists between all of those present.
Of course, there is fear. What will happen if a person tells? Will the group come after them? Will they be ridiculed, mocked or perhaps even beaten? Will they, in turn, end up on the receiving end of the art of power of humiliation the way the original victims did? People in this situation tend to not think of how their actions will affect those outside of their group; they think only of the direct affect on themselves, their immediate peers and their place in the hierarchy.
Here is a chronology of hazing incidents within athletics, dating back to 19031 and occurring as recently as 20022.
Recorded hazings by non-athletic team members goes back as many years, these examples stretching from 1903 to present. Even in long ago history, we see the same denial from school officials as we see now3 and. more recently, the same refusal from some students, even the victims, to press charges or come forward4.
As you can see if you view this list, as the years went on, injurious or violent hazing became more frequent and more demeaning and intrusive in nature.
Even as the rituals of hazing, specifically in college fraternities, became more public, and the dangers of the rituals were spelled out in no uncertain terms as a rash of hazing-related deaths occurred, the acts of violence and humiliation continued. Laws that were passed against hazing in various states did no good simply because most of the people that commit these acts feel they are above the law; it's what made them the fearless leaders of their groups to begin with. Grass-roots orginizations, most founded by parents of hazing victims, sprouted up with regularity.
It's a sad testament to the widespread practice of hazing rituals that sites such as StopHazing.org need to exist, and that they are filled with so many stories, links and articles on vicious, violent and sometimes deadly incidents. How can a practice that has received so much negative media attention and resulted in so many deaths and injuries, not to mention psychological damage, still exist in such blatant form today?
40 out of 50 states have hazing statutes. In many states, including New York, the punishment for breaking these laws do not reflect the seriousness of the crimes. Also, in review of these statutes, too many of them automatically link hazing with drinking. While that is a big problem on college campuses - and these hazing often result in death5 or severe damage - in high schools most of the acts are ones of violence and have little to do with alcohol.
Does the real crux of the problem lie within the schools, the parents or those who commit the acts? Parents who are complicit in hazing, or those who remain silent, keeping their knowledge of incidents away from authorities, they are just as guilty as their children. When school admistrators adopt a kids-will-be-kids attitude or deny any charges against their students, they too are guilty.
Which brings us back to the Mepham story. Yesterday, Nassau County Court Judge Donald E. Belfi oversaw the hearing in which twelve people involved in the hazing agreed to appear before a Pennsylvania grand jury investigating the case. Belfi made a statement afterwards, saying, "Authorities are willing to accept any complaints ... as to any schools in Nassau County or anywhere else [on Long Island]," and his law clerk stated that the judge believes that if this happened in one school, it is happening in others.
Pennsylvania prosecutors were forced to issue subpoenas for witnesses and administrators to appear next week before a grand jury due to the relctuance, or outright unwillingness, of most of those witnesses to speak up, speak out and tell the truth about what went on at football camp.
There is an awful lot of blame to be passed around here and we should not forget that even though the parents and school officials and football staff all share a responsibility in this, it is ultimately the three young men who physically committed the acts that need to be held responsible for their actions. The rest can fall in line after that is done.
I believe that no amount of publicity, no lectures or articles or videotaped interviews of kids who have been victims of hazing before will every stop this practice from taking place within our schools. Some kids are unreachable. Some parents are oblivious. Some teachers are cowards. It's sad, but it's true. There will always be those who have the power and those who are subject to that power. How do we undo this? How can we, those who know better, those who care enough, ever reach the parents and kids and administrators who turn a blind eye to all that is going on around them or even encourage it?
The simple yet daunting answer is, we can't. Somehow, this has all become a nearly acceptable part of our society. While hazing is by no means a new fashion, we did not do ourselves a service by spending most of the late 80's and early 90's creating self-esteem monsters.
[To be continued]
ADefinition of hazing as described by the Fraternity Insurance Purchasing Group:
"Any action taken or situation created, intentionally, whether on or off fraternity premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Such activities may include but are not limited to the following: use of alcohol; paddling in any form; creation of excessive fatigue; physical and psychological shocks; quests, treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, road trips or any other such activities carried on outside or inside of the confines of the chapter house; wearing of public apparel which is conspicuous and not normally in good taste; engaging in public stunts and buffoonery; morally degrading or humiliating games and activities; and any other activities which are not consistent with fraternal law, ritual or policy or the regulations and policies of the educational institution."
"1. If you have to ask if it's hazing, it is. 2. If in doubt, call your advisor/coach/national office. If you won't pick up the phone, you have your answer. Don't B.S. yourself.' 3. If you haze, you have low self-esteem. 4. If you allow hazing to occur, you are a 'hazing enabler.' 5. Failure to stop hazing will result in death..."
11923 Hobart College (New York): Two senior football players were expelled after freshman Lloyd Hyde was beaten and thrown into Seneca Lake.
22002 New London High School; Wrestling Team (Ohio):A 14-year old player's statement that he was sodomized with fingers by teammates is under investigation
31917 New York Military Academy (Cornwall, NY): Student Bertram Haigh contended his hearing loss in his right ear was a result of hazing. The school superintendent said Haigh's hearing loss was caused by an infection before he came to the academy.
4 1984 Hamden High School (New Haven, CT): Although 17-year-old Todd Depino was paddled so hard and often that he was hospitalized and his skin was discolored, he refused to turn in the hazers.
5February 24, 1978: Alfred University, New York: Chuck Stenzel was kidnapped from his dorm, locked in a car trunk in freezing weather with the other pledges, and forced to consume a lethal mix of bourbon, wine and beer. Chuck was dead within hours due to acute alcohol poisoning and exposure to cold.