College Consortium: Why Sexual Violence Prevention Strategies Must Acknowledge Hazing

Jan 31st, 2019

By: Grace Fansler, MPH, Prevention & Education Program Coordinator

What is Hazing?

Hazing is defined as “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate”.[1]  Hazing is not unique to fraternity/sorority life and varsity athletic teams; college students have reported hazing in club sports, intramural teams, military groups, recreational clubs, service fraternities and sororities, performing arts organizations, honor societies, and academic clubs.  The National Study of Student Hazing found that 55% of college students involved in organizations, clubs, and teams experience hazing. 

The University of Texas Austin classifies hazing into three main subgroups.  “Subtle” hazing refers to seemingly harmless or meaningless activities that emphasize the power imbalance between old and new members of a group.  This may look like requiring physical exercise, or assigning new members meaningless or impossible activities to “prove” their worth.  “Harassment” hazing has the potential to cause emotional anguish or physical discomfort, and can include yelling or screaming at new members, any form of interrogation, or wearing embarrassing clothing.  “Violent” hazing has the potential to cause physical, emotional, and psychological harm.  Violent hazing behaviors include paddling, beating, forced consumption of any food, liquid, or drug, and sexual misconduct.

Sexual Violence & Hazing

Sexual violence is perpetuated through hazing in multiple ways.  “Violent” hazing of a sexual nature can occur in many forms, ranging from harassment and coerced nudity to coerced/forced sex acts on the opposite gender, or penetrative assault.  Any act that imposes on someone’s bodily autonomy could constitute sexual misconduct. There are similarities in the motivation behind sexual violence perpetration and hazing, as both stem from exerting power and control over another person. 

Many hazing incidents in fraternities and all male sports groups may involve older members anally penetrating younger members.  Dr. Susan Lipkins, author of Preventing Hazing, states that penetration is a way to humiliate new members, and make them feel lesser.  It is also a violent act that implies homophobia and misogyny.  Even when hazing is not explicitly sexually violent, hazing acts often perpetuate rape culture.  The Dartmouth Radical explains, “Hazing rituals often reinforce toxic masculinity, asking men to prove themselves by withstanding pain or discomfort. Other acts involve the dehumanization of women as sex objects when members must produce proof of their conquests or interactions with women in order to receive validation”.[2]

Those that have experienced hazing can be more likely to continue the cycle of violence.  In order to cope with feeling disempowered, individuals may continue to inflict harm in order to reaffirm their sense of empowerment.2

How to End Hazing

The National Study of Student Hazing found that 9 out of 10 students who have experienced hazing behavior in college do not consider themselves to be hazed, and of the cases where students identified hazing 95% did not report to the police.1  Campuses must work to create hazing prevention efforts that educate the campus community and change the cultural norms surrounding hazing. Additionally, sexual violence prevention efforts on college campuses need to be aware of the intersection of hazing and sexual misconduct.  It is important for students to understand that even when sexual misconduct is occurring in the context of “hazing”, it is against the law and it is a form of sexual violence.

[1] Allan, E.J. & Madden, M. (2008) Hazing in View: College students at risk. Initial Findings from the National Study of Student Hazing

[2] The Dartmouth Radical. (2018). Beyond the basement: Understanding the relationship between hazing and sexual violence. Retrieved from:

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