Sense of belonging is twisted by hazing

It’s the price some pay for so-called respect. That how one national expert describes hazing.

“You give up your self-respect to get exterior respect,” said Hank Nuwer, the author of four books on the subject, including “Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing” and “Wrongs of Passage: Fraternities, Sororities, Hazing and Binge Drinking.”

“Esprit de corps is so important, the idea of being loyal to the group. It’s more important than their values and principles,” Nuwer said Monday by phone from Franklin College in Indiana, where he is an associate professor at the Pulliam School of Journalism.

“With that camaraderie, they will circle the wagons,” he said.

Nuwer has spent more than 30 years researching hazing abuses and pushing prevention. Before talking with me, he was already aware of an incident here.

On June 24, Nuwer posted an item on his blog “Hazing Prevention” about reports of beatings involving the “Naked Vikings,” a student football booster group linked to Inglemoor High School in Kenmore. The group is not sanctioned by the Northshore district school.

The Herald reported June 20 that Snohomish County sheriff’s deputies responded to a complaint about men yelling on the night of June 17. At Forsgren Park in Bothell, they found a dozen teen boys, 16 to 18, wearing only shorts. Some had open wounds, according to the report, and some were bent over a log.

According to the article, the teens said they were involved in a hazing for a group connected to their school. Although seven teens, all under 18, were identified by deputies as potential victims, they did not wish to cooperate with a police investigation, Snohomish County sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Brand said. Eight potential suspects, all 18, were identified.

A June 20 KIRO-TV report said one teen described being burned with a cigar, urinated on, and beaten with PVC pipe.

On Wednesday, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Shari Ireton said there is no criminal case related to the incident. “None of the boys or the families wanted to pursue any criminal complaints against anybody, so without any criminal charges being requested there’s nothing for us to investigate,” she said.

Washington state has a statute that defines hazing, and a law that stipulates penalties.

Brand, the Snohomish County sheriff’s lieutenant, said it isn’t uncommon for victims to be unwilling to see perpetrators punished. “In law enforcement, we see this all the time,” he said.

“We also see it in domestic violence — a victim says it’s all my fault. There are different initiations for gangs or motorcycle clubs. Also criminal organizations. It’s a brotherhood — we’re not going to snitch on our own,” Brand said.

Referring to the recent incident, Brand said “we have a group of people and their parents who said we won’t support prosecution.” With limited time and resources, he said, it makes little sense to build a case only to have the defense say “How can they be victims? They agreed to this.”

Nuwer said his research into hazing lines up with what Yale University research psychologist Irving Janis called “groupthink.” Loyalty to a group overpowers individual judgment, he said.

There’s fear, too. In both hazing and cyberbullying, Nuwer said, “it’s legitimate to go after somebody when others are chiming in and agreeing with you.

“No one wants to go to the aid of the deer being closed in on by wolves,” Nuwer said. “The thinking is, ‘Thank God I’m not the deer.’”

In hazing, there is potential for real danger to victims and perpetrators. One blow delivered too hard, and an initiation could be fatal. In 2011, drum major Robert Champion died after being beaten during hazing for the Florida A&M University’s Marching 100 band. One defendant faces up to 21 years in prison.

Susan Lipkins isn’t surprised when hazing victims don’t speak up, even when harmed. A psychologist in private practice on New York’s Long Island, she has been a school psychologist with a specialty in violence. She is the author of “Preventing Hazing: How Parents, Teachers and Coaches Can Stop the Violence, Harassment and Humiliation.”

“In hazing and bullying, there is an unwritten code of silence,” Lipkins said. “”If you tell, there will be some retribution. Even with 4-year-olds, a teacher says ‘Who did this?’ and they are all silent.”

Lipkins said that by high school, victims fear what she calls “second hazing,” the consequences of coming forward. “It can be worse than the first hazing,” she said. She has seen victims ostracized by their own families.

Her interest was fueled by a 2003 case. Junior-varsity football players from Long Island’s W. C. Mepham High School were sexually assaulted at football camp. According to The New York Times, prosecutors in that case said three older players sodomized younger teammates with pine cones, golf balls and a broomstick. Three teens were charged with numerous felonies, and admitted to the acts.

“Many kids get what I call the blueprint of hazing in high school,” Lipkins said. “They come in as victims wanting to joint a group, a team. The next year they’re a bystander, and the third year they have the power to haze others. Some take that blueprint to college, the military or the workplace.

“To me, the victims or bystanders who come forward, they are the brave ones. They are the heroes,” Lipkins said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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