Hazing and Sex Assaults-Know the Difference!

Recently, the Associated Press published an important article on how the sexual assault of teenagers, particularly high school boys who participate in sports, is passed off as harmless hazing rituals. This “re-framing” is a dangerous phenomenon meant to minimize the trauma of sexual abuse in youth. In an odd way, it’s also a way for young males to avoid facing the horror of having been the victim of a sexual assault. This of course is not meant to downplay the significance or trauma that young women suffer when they are sexually victimized. However, males and females react differently to such trauma and part of that reaction concerns cultural norms, stereotypes, and expectations.

Reese Dunklin, The Associated Press writer who chose to begin his article by telling the story of one Georgia high school describes what he believes is a phenomenon found across the country.

“The Georgia school district said it was investigating the baseball players for ‘misbehavior’ and ‘inappropriate physical contact.’ What it didn’t reveal was that a younger teammate had reported being sexually assaulted.

Even after players were later disciplined for sexual battery, the district cited student confidentiality to withhold details from the public and used ‘hazing’ to describe the incident, which it also failed to report to the state as required.”

Dunklin concludes that it’s a ubiquitous problem with coaches, faculty and school administration serving as enablers.

He writes,

“The AP examined sexual violence in school sports as part of its larger look at student-on-student sex assaults. Analyzing state education records, supplemented by federal crime data, AP found about 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students in grades K-12 over a recent four-year period. That figure doesn’t capture the extent of problem because attacks are widely under-reported and not all states track them or classify them uniformly. Nor does the data paint a detailed picture of specific incidents, revealed when the AP reviewed more than 300 cases of student-on-student sexual violence that surfaced through law enforcement records, lawsuits, interviews and news accounts. In those cases, the sports setting emerged as a leading venue for such attacks.”

Susan Lipkins, a New York psychologist and author who specializes in sports attacks, and was interviewed for the AP article noted, “older players use sexual violence to exert dominance over newer or smaller boys vying for the roster. “What’s worse for a young jock than to be emasculated to the lowest level, to be like a girl?” she said.

Calling sexual abuse or assault by anything else is a lie and enables it to continue. It’s an uncomfortable issue that causes much pain and is therefore easier to minimize it or call it hazing, or some other term.  However, to do so is to legitimize it and allow it to continue to fester as a cancer in our communities. If these particular forms of sexual assault are going to be stopped it will take a concerted effort from school administrators, teachers, coaches, parents, and teen peers to do it.


Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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