Teen Health

Hazing: Not Just Fun and Games

Medically Reviewed On: October 27, 2013

By Erica Heilman

Hazing has a long tradition, not only in college fraternities, but in sororities, the military, athletic teams, and student organizations at both high school and college levels. Though many people think of hazing practices as harmless school-time antics, hazing has actually been associated with more than 50 deaths in college fraternities, countless injuries, and devastating emotional effects.

Like victims of domestic abuse, people who are treated for hazing-related injuries are often reluctant to identify the cause of their injury, and for this reason, there are very few reliable statistics on the prevalence of hazing practices. There has also been very little research on the subject in the medical community. "Hazing is an important public health issue that has been largely ignored," says Dr. Michelle Finkel, emergency medicine physician from Massachusetts General Hospital. Finkel's article, "Traumatic Injuries Caused by Hazing Practices," was published in the May, 2002 issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. Below, she shares some insights from her research.

Dr. Finkel, what is hazing?
MICHELLE FINKEL: The working definition I use actually comes from hazing expert Hank Nuwer, and it is: committing acts against an individual or forcing an individual into committing an act that creates a risk of harm in order for the individual to be initiated into or affiliated with an organization.

How prevalent are hazing practices today?
It's hard to say because, for a variety of reasons, the numbers are just not out there.

First, people don't report it. Kids don't want to report it because it's very embarrassing, and they don't want to get their fraternity or sorority or their group member brothers and sisters in trouble. So my suspicion is that there's a tremendous number of underreported hazing incidents.

Also, I just don't think that hazing prevalence has been studied that much. There was a study done at Alfred University, which involved college athletes, but it is the only significant study about hazing that I came across in my research.

What were some compelling numbers or results in the Alfred study population?
There were 325,000 athletes surveyed in the Alfred study, and 80% of respondents reported that they were subject to, and the quote is, "questionable or unacceptable activities as part of their initiation into a collegiate athletics team." That's four in five people, which is pretty amazing.

One in five said that he was subjected to, quote, "unacceptable and potentially illegal hazing." When asked to describe the nature of this "unacceptable and potentially illegal activity," they described activities such as beatings, kidnapping, and abandonment.

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