Hazing can be defined as a rite of passage wherein new members of a particular group are taken through traditional practices by more senior members so as to initiate them into the next stage of their involvement in the group. The term “hazing” can also be referred to as initiations, initiation rites, and initiation rituals.
In the United States, 43 states have statutes against hazing. Each of these states has its own statutes, and collectively they use variable definitions of hazing and apply different penalties for engaging in activities associated with hazing. Despite these statutes, hazing remains a common problem in the United States, with reports indicating that more than 80% of high school and university students experience some form of hazing. The actual rates of hazing are difficult to gauge, as this activity usually occurs in private with few official legal reports ever being made.
Most legal cases involving hazing fall under tort law. Tort law addresses personal injury claims where compensation is typically sought. Compensation for personal injury caused by hazing is often sought either from the individuals who committed the act of hazing or from the school or governing body where the act occurred. High schools and universities in the United States have been held liable in cases involving hazing for appearing negligent or breaching their duty of care for their students.
Legal cases involving hazing can also involve criminal law. Criminal charges are often pursued that relate to the specific acts occurring during a hazing incident, such as physical or sexual assault. In Canada, other charges are pursued in all criminal cases involving hazing, as no legal statutes exist specifically to address this form of abuse. Such statutes do exist throughout most of the United States, although seven states–Alaska, Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming–currently do not have legal statutes against hazing including. This does not mean that individuals who engage in hazing activities in these seven states are immune from civil and criminal liability; rather, it indicates that these states simply do not have laws that specifically address hazing.
In the states that have legal statues pertaining to hazing, the intent and scope of the statutes can vary widely. In Illinois, engaging in hazing that is not authorized by an educational institution and causes serious bodily harm can result in a Class 4 felony, which typically results in a two- to three-year period of incarceration. In California, individuals can be charged with a misdemeanor for committing acts of hazing or for conspiring to commit such acts. The fine for a hazing misdemeanor in California ranges from $100 to $5,000, and the sentence can include up to one year in prison. In Nevada, a person committing acts associated with hazing is guilty of a misdemeanor if no substantial bodily harm results or of a gross misdemeanor if serious bodily harm occurs; the latter offense may result in up to one year in prison or a $2,000 fine. In Vermont, a statute exists against the perpetration of hazing, attempting to participate in an act of hazing, or failing to prevent an act of hazing; however, no predetermined penalty for these offenses has been established. Despite the existence of these laws, reports indicate that the presence, type, and severity of hazing statutes have done little to curb the prevalence of hazing in the United States.
- Guynn, K. L., & Aquila, F. D. (2005). Hazing in high schools: Causes and consequences. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation.
- Johnson, J., & Holman, M. (Eds.). (2004). Making the team: the inside world of sport initiations and hazing. Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press.
- Nuwer, H. (2001). Wrongs ofpassage: Fraternities, sororities, hazing and binge drinking. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
- Nuwer, H. (2004). The hazing reader. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.