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By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
msnbc.com
updated 6/3/2010 8:19:37 AM ET 2010-06-03T12:19:37

Though most won’t admit it unless they have to, more teen boys are being treated after cringe-worthy attacks in which they’re slapped or punched in the groin, sometimes causing serious harm requiring surgery, doctors say.

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An msnbc.com poll of 100 urologists, conducted by Truth On Call, showed that 30 percent of the doctors had seen or treated pre-teen and teen boys for testicular trauma in the past year, including severe injuries caused by so-called “sack-tapping,” in which boys ambush others at school and elsewhere.

“There definitely has been a rise in the number of cases,” said Dr. Anthony Atala, a pediatric urologist and department chairman at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and spokesman for the American Urological Association. “We know it is going up.”

The issue was highlighted by news last week that a 14-year-old Minnesota boy, David Gibbons, had to have his right testicle removed after a hallway assault. “This is, in fact, a form of bullying,” Atala said. “Someone may do that without realizing the consequences of their actions.”

Video: Disturbing game a trend among teen boys Bruises, blood clots, testicular torsion — in which the organ twists up to 360 degrees — and, more rarely, testicular rupture, all are consequences of blunt force trauma to the testicles, including injuries caused by close-range punches.

Nearly 8,000 boys and young men ages 10 to 20 were treated for pubic region injuries in the nation’s emergency rooms last year, according to estimates from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. That’s up from about 7,300 injuries in 2008 and about 5,500 in 2007.

Most of those injuries were caused during sports or by accidents involving bicycles or skateboards, a review of cases reveals. But a growing number have been caused by so-called games known variously as “sack-tapping,” “nut tag,” or “Roshambo,” after a 1998 episode of the animated series “South Park” that popularized the painful practice.

Most young victims don’t want to admit they’ve participated, willingly or not.

Reluctant victims
That was the case with the 13-year-old boy treated last year by Dr. B. Sophia Ford-Glanton in Hannibal, Mo. The boy suffered sudden excruciating groin pain, but was reluctant to discuss how he was injured. He asked his parents to leave the exam room and then revealed that he’d been struck during rough horseplay with friends.

“He was kind of vague about what happened,” she said.

The boy required surgery to remove dead tissue from his testicle, but was fortunate that the organ will still function, Ford-Glanton said.

“It’s hard to believe someone would think it’s fun to see how much pain someone could take from something like this,” she said.

Doctors and anti-bullying advocates say the recent rise in viral media outlets means that behaviors that were once confined to a certain school or region now spread quickly through online videos and news stories. Dozens of home videos posted to YouTube, for instance, chronicle groin-punch incidents.

Publicizing the behavior can exacerbate the problem, said Stan Davis, founder of the group Stop Bullying Now! of Wayne, Maine. Media reports may imply that the behavior is common or normal and certain language can minimize the seriousness of the actions, said Davis, also author of the book “Schools Where Everyone Belongs: Practical Strategies for Reducing Bullying.”

“No matter what playful names are used to describe this, it is sexual assault with the potential to do serious harm,” Davis said.

Still, parents, school officials and community members must become aware of the problem so that they can stop it, said Atala, the urologist.

“You need to tell children, ‘Don’t let anybody hit you there; if they do, let me know,’” he said. “We need to let them know this will not be tolerated.” Follow us

A reflection of our society’
Signs of testicular injury include severe pain, nausea, vomiting and difficulty walking. Pain can last days or weeks without treatment. Testicular torsion and testicular rupture must be treated immediately, within hours, to have any hope of salvaging the organ.

Judy Kuczynski, president of Bully Police USA, based in Minneapolis, urges passage of anti-bullying laws now enacted in at least 43 states to help stem the problem. She believes only clear structure and firm consequences for egregious behavior such as “sack-tapping” will curb what she sees as a growing tolerance for cruel acts.

“If you look at everything in our society, if you look at the reality TV shows, you seen an escalation of nastiness,” she said. “Our kids are only a reflection of our society.”

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