High school hazing, pervading groups from sports teams to the yearbook staff and performing arts, is as widespread as ever but is also growing more "brutal," a new study has found.
Professors Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden of the University of Maine's College of Education and Human Development, have discovered that 47 percent of university students reported having been hazed while still in high school.
The hazing included activities from silly stunts to drinking games, with 8 percent of the students drinking to the point of getting sick or passing out, they said.
Just like college students, high schoolers are susceptible to getting swept up in group activities and doing things they might not otherwise do, the authors said.
"That group dynamic can lead to the escalation where you have the hazing that's been reported in the news, some horrendous incidents," Madden said.
Among them: a "powder puff" event in which several seniors at a suburban Chicago high school were suspended or charged with roughing up junior girls, and junior varsity football players being sodomized by teammates at their New York high school.
The professors' findings, to be presented Thursday during the American Educational Research Association's annual meeting in San Diego, suggest that little has changed since the last major survey of hazing in American high schools in 2000.
That survey, led by Norm Pollard at Alfred University, indicated that 48 percent of high schoolers belonging to school groups were hazed.
While lack of any significant improvement is bad enough, the nature of hazing has become more dangerous and destructive, some educators say.
'They're getting more sexual'
"We're still having hazing incidents in this country in high schools. They're getting more brutal. They're getting more sexual. And they're being pushed down into middle schools," said Elliot Hopkins of the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Allan and Madden previously reported on college hazing using a survey of 11,480 students at 53 colleges and universities. The result was the biggest study of hazing in higher education to date, said Pollard, who served as an adviser.
This time, the professors tapped the same pool of participants to explore what happened to them prior to their arrival on college campuses.
Allan and Madden found the highest rates of hazing among members of sports teams (47 percent), ROTC (46 percent), and bands and performing arts organizations (34 percent). The average for other school organizations was 20 percent, the researchers reported.
Hazing-related activities included being required to associate only with the peer group (28 percent), singing or chanting in public (21 percent), verbal abuse (19 percent), sleep deprivation (12 percent), and getting a tattoo or piercing (12 percent), they said.
Twelve percent of the survey's respondents participated in a drinking game, and 8 percent drank until getting sick or losing consciousness, they said.
Hopkins said he is particularly worried that activities are becoming more sexually charged in cases of cheerleaders being forced to undress and shave in front of their peers, or boys and girls being forced to simulate sex acts to join a group.
At its worst, hazing can lead to sexual assault, as happened with a highly publicized incident involving a football team from Long Island, N.Y., he said.
In that case, several junior varsity players were sodomized with sticks, pine cones and golf balls at preseason training camp in Pennsylvania. Four students were charged, five football coaches fired and the team's football season canceled.
The psychological harm from hazing can follow into students' relationships, marriages, parenting and workplace, Pollard said.
"It's not just 'boys being boys.' It teaches impressionable young adults about power, control, humiliation and how you treat other individuals," he said.
'Same as bullying?'
Allan and Madden, who are based at the University of Maine campus in Orono, say they were disturbed to learn that hazing is taking a back seat as high school administrators focus on bullying.
"We've had educators say, 'Isn't that the same as bullying?'" Madden said. "It just indicates the amount of education that's needed all around."
Bullies do not want the victim to be part of their group, and their goal is to humiliate, ostracize and degrade to make themselves feel bigger and better, Madden said. Hazing is different because it involves a group dynamic and coercion.
"The coercion can be subtle, but it's powerful," Allan said. "You have these really nice people who are generally reasonable kids making sound decisions for the most part. And then all of a sudden they're swept up in his group dynamic — it contributes to impairing judgment."