Ten percent of high school boys report being victims of rape, forced oral sex and other sexual assault, according to a study by the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
Experts say sexual hazing has been increasing in the past decade, and high school hazing fuels college hazing.
One recent example is in Norwood, Colorado. On an empty school bus at a high school wrestling tournament, three upperclassmen bound a 13-year-old boy with duct tape and sodomized him with a pencil.
Response to an attack
His father, the school’s principal, first confronted the coach and reported the incident to the vice president of the school board and the superintendent of schools.
“None of them ever talked to my son to make sure he was okay,” said the father, who Here & Now is not naming, in order to protect his son’s identity. “They never contacted the police. They contacted their attorney and they suspended the kids that did this to my son for one day.”
Under Colorado law, school officials are required to report incidents of abuse to the police or social services.
Life at school became difficult for the boy who was assaulted. Other students were cruel to him.
“They were either making fun of him for what happened or giving him a hard time for actually saying something about it,” said the father.
The father found no recourse in the school administration, or sympathy from other parents. People in the town considered the boy a snitch, the father said.
Searching for justice
“We called the department of education, we called everywhere we could,” he said. “It was kind of like we were on an island trying to figure out what can we do, but nobody wants to talk about it.”
Some people in town made t-shirts supporting the attackers, and some students wore them to school. That’s when the father decided to pull his son out of school.
“He was in school everyday,” the father said. “He was stronger than anyone, going and facing that every day.”
The father reported the incident to the Denver police, and the Denver District Attorney pursued charges against the three attackers. One pleaded guilty to sexual contact without consent, the other two pleaded guilty to third degree assault.
“As an administrator, just like a parent, you have to realize there’s going to be backlash when you push it forward,” he said. “But you have to do what’s right. That’s the only way you can change the attitude towards this.”
The family has since relocated.
A closer look at sexual hazing
Jonathan Kaufman, a managing editor at Bloomberg, coordinated a larger investigation on sexual hazing among boys.
His reporters investigated the Norwood, Colorado, incident involving the father and his son, and they were surprised to find how dismissive administrators were of the incident.
They also found that sexual hazing among boys and young men is more widespread than people realize.
“We have a lot of awareness these days about sexual abuse involving adults—Penn state and other places,” Kaufman said. “But there still seems to be the sense, especially in schools or colleges, that when these incidents happen it’s part of ‘boys being boys,’ or let’s take care of it internally. And so you’ll have authority figures, including coaches, who either turn a blind eye or in fact encourage it.”
The reporters found that when hazing starts in younger years, it can escalate later.
“They hear about these things through social media, they read about these attacks, they decide to somehow one-up, and that then fuels what goes on in colleges,” Kaufman said. “That’s true of lots of things. That’s true of drinking, that’s true of sexual assaults as well.”
Parents and authority figures should not turn a blind eye, Kaufman said.
“Kids will do things, but it’s really the role of adults to step in and to say stop, and to find out what is going on, and to fix it,” Kaufman said. “What was so shocking [in the Norwood story], as the father, I think, described so movingly, was that everyone from the school board to local town officials and fellow parents turned their back on him. And I think that’s the part that really has to give us cause for reflection.”
Jeremy Hobson joins Robin Young as co-host of Here & Now in its new 2-hour format, from WBUR and NPR.
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