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Is Hazing Illegal in California?

You’ve likely seen it on TV, heard stories from friends and family, or experienced it yourself. Hazing is a popular yet dangerous form of initiation into a group. Oftentimes, hazing is prominent in fraternities, sororities, and other social groups on college campuses.

Legal Consequences of Hazing

In California, hazing means any method of initiation or preinitiation into a student organization or student body that is likely to cause serious bodily injury to any former, current, or prospective student of any school, community college, college, university, or other educational institution. Hazing does not include customary athletic events or school-sanctioned events.

  • Hazing that does not result in serious bodily injury: Misdemeanor punishable by $100 to $5,000 fines and up to 1 year in jail.
  • Hazing that results in death or serious bodily injury: This is a wobbler offense, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. If convicted, the punishment is up to 1 year in county jail or a certain amount of time on mandatory supervision (i.e., probation or parole).

Keep in mind that “serious bodily injury” means a serious impairment of physical condition, such as:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Concussion
  • Bone fracture
  • Protracted loss or impairment of any bodily member or organ
  • A wound requiring extensive suturing
  • Serious disfigurement

What Are the Other Consequences of Hazing?

As you can see, the legal consequences of hazing are quite harsh. This isn’t surprising, however, because victims tend to experience detrimental short and long-term effects of hazing, such as:

  • Physical, emotional, and/or mental instability
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Loss of sense of control and empowerment
  • A decline in grades and coursework
  • Severed relationships with friends, significant others, and family
  • Post-traumatic stress syndrome
  • Loss of respect for the organization
  • Loss of trust between the group members
  • Illness or hospitalization

Examples of Hazing

Hazing can be subtle, harassing, or violent and involves physical, mental, and emotional harm. Participants don’t typically perceive their actions to be harmful, and if they do, they don’t feel the need to stop. Since hazing often occurs in Greek life organizations and other social groups within universities, peer pressure is hard to escape ― even for hazers.

To get a better idea of this, we list some common hazing practices below, as provided by the University of Arkansas:

Subtle Hazing

  • Requiring new members to perform unnecessary duties not assigned to existing members
  • Required calisthenics such as sit-ups or push-ups, or other forms of physical exercise
  • Sleep deprivation
  • The assignment of meaningless and sometimes impossible tasks
  • Required “greeting” of members in a specific manner when seen on campus
  • Required carrying of certain items

Harassment

  • Personal servitude or chores
  • Lineups to interrogate, demeaning, or intimidating
  • Wearing embarrassing or uncomfortable clothing
  • Assigning pranks such as stealing, painting objects, or harassing other organizations
  • Forced confinement, oftentimes involving very loud music and/or the repetition of a specific song
  • Being dropped off somewhere and forced to find the way back

Violent

  • Capturing or kidnapping
  • Total or partial nudity
  • Pushing, shoving, tackling, or any other physical contact
  • Forced consumption of any liquid or food, often involving alcohol and/or gross food combinations
  • Paddling or whipping
  • Branding, cutting, labeling, or shaving parts of the body

A Look at the Numbers

Hazing has been a common practice in universities for decades. Now more than ever, however, college students and their families are taking a strong stance against hazing and enforcing strict punishments to help deter these acts. When you look at the statistics below, you will understand why hazing is being prohibited and punished at administrative and criminal levels at higher rates than we’ve seen before.

The following hazing statistics are provided by Stetson University and cited from Hazing in View: Students at Risk  conducted by Elizabeth Allan, Ph.D. and Mary Madden, Ph.D. from the University of Maine.

  • 1.5 million high school students are hazed each year; 47 percent of students came to college already having experienced hazing.
  • 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience hazing.
  • Alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and sexual acts are hazing practices common across all types of student groups.
  • 40 percent of athletes who reported being involved in hazing behaviors report that a coach or advisor was aware of the activity; 22 percent report that the coach was involved.
  • Two in five students say they are aware of hazing taking place on their campus. More than one in five people report witnessing hazing personally.
  • In 95 percent of cases where students identified their experience as hazing, they did not report the events to campus officials.
  • Nine out of ten students who have experienced hazing behavior in college do not consider themselves to have been hazed.
  • 36 percent of students say they would not report hazing primarily because "there's no one to tell," and 27 percent feel that adults won't handle it right.
  • As of February 12, 2010, the number of recorded hazing/pledging/rushing-related deaths in fraternities and sororities stands at 96– 90 males and 6 females.
  • 82 percent of deaths from hazing involve alcohol.

Universities and law enforcement agencies do not take hazing reports lightly, and neither should you. If you or a loved one is accused of hazing, the risks including getting expelled from college, losing scholarships, severing relationships, and experiencing obstacles to getting a job, housing, and other key opportunities as a result.

To best avoid these troubling outcomes, we welcome you to schedule a consultation with our attorney and learn about your legal options. You have your whole life ahead of you, and we’re here to protect your freedom and future no matter what you’re up against. To learn more, give us a call at (707) 418-5352!

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