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Sexual violence in high school sports: It’s not hazing, it’s abuse

On behalf of Soloff & Zervanos, P.C. Posted in Sexual Abuse on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

We have previously written about the problem of child sex abusers who gain access to their victims by taking jobs that involve interaction with kids. This includes teachers and youth sports coaches.

Sometimes, however, adults are not the offenders. Other kids are. Under the guise of “hazing” rituals, sexual violence has become a major problem in certain team sports like high school football. The adults working in a given program may not have committed sexual abuse, but they are nonetheless liable when they fail to properly supervise all minors in their care.

In October, it was reported that a high school in Sayreville, New Jersey, would be cancelling the remainder of its football season. This was after certain students came forward with allegations about sexual violence that had occurred in an unsupervised locker room. According to some accounts, some older football players would keep guard at the door while others held down younger players, turned out the lights and digitally penetrated them.

In addition to the season being cancelled, seven high school football players have been criminally charged, five coaches have been indefinitely suspended and another eight coaches have been fired.

There are many actions that could fall under the definition of “hazing.” But calling this incident hazing seems to downplay the seriousness of the offense. Commenting in a Penn Live article, a member of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center noted that “This goes way beyond common pranks like forcing an athlete to dress in a crazy outfit or throwing toilet paper at the principal’s house. According to the FBI, this is rape. Anytime you have penetration of the vagina or anus with a body part or object, it’s rape. This is plain and simple sexual violence.”

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, it is understandable that coaches may be hesitant to monitor their student athletes in the locker room. They do not want to risk allegations of improper conduct. But leaving students completely unattended is not the answer to this problem. Instead, coaches need to set up protocols for appropriate monitoring behavior, including having at least two adults present at all times.

Sexual violence may have been a “hazing tradition” at this high school. It was also apparently a problem at a high school here in Pennsylvania, which also had its season cancelled. But behavior like this cannot be justified as hazing. And the fact that it has become a tradition seemingly makes coaches and school officials more culpable for not intervening sooner.

Source: Penn Live, “Hazing in sports: Sexual violence often part of aggressive athletic rituals,” Ivey DeJesus, Nov. 3, 2014