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Hazing tradition continues in silence

Ripple effects from recent Grant High incident unknown

One of the public's most common associations with hazing might be the classic scene from 'Animal House.' But in real life, there's nothing funny about hazing.

So says Sue Lipkins, a New York psychologist, hazing expert and author of the book, 'Preventing Hazing: How Parents, Teachers and Coaches Can Stop the Violence, Harassment and Humiliation.'

Hazing has been around forever, Lipkins says, but it has become more violent and sexualized in the past 10 to 15 years because of what she calls the 'vulture culture.'

'We have reality shows, a lot of competition, and a winner/loser mentality,' she says. 'There's shrinking resources for jobs, college, spots on teams, and the aggression has risen. That can come out in all ways - one is hazing.'

YouTube and other resources on the Internet also make it easy for minors to see images that sexualize and objectify people, she says.

Lipkins has been busy lately giving her insight into the recent hazing scandals across the country, including the Florida A and M University drum major killed in a hazing incident during a band trip, and the Utah high school senior who killed himself after allegedly enduring hazing for several years; his family is suing the school district.

Lipkins was not surprised to hear that a hazing case cropped up at an upper-middle class high school in Portland, since the behavior cuts across all color and socioeconomic lines.

'I guarantee this is not the first (local) hazing,' she says. 'They're not isolated incidents. They're traditions; people plan them; the kids have a purpose.'

The Portland Police Bureau's Sex Crimes Division is investigating the Jan. 17 incident at Grant High School, police reported Tuesday morning. According to detectives, the belief is that 'the incidents alleged go beyond simple hazing.'

Rumors about the incident abound, but no details have been released because the students are minors and the investigation - which could take some time - is ongoing.

The 'assault,' as Grant Principal Vivien Orlen has described it, happened in the boys' locker room after a junior varsity basketball game, among male athletes. Four students associated with the hazing have been suspended; all but one returned to school this week.

According to police, 'There is no reason to believe any children are at risk or are any staff/coaches the subject of the investigation. Grant High School staff is cooperating with investigators.'

(Police urge anyone with information about the incident to write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

In a case involving juveniles in Oregon, the decision to press criminal charges is up to the Multnomah County district attorney, says Julie H. McFarlane, supervising attorney for Youth Rights and Justice Attorneys at Law.

If the victim doesn't want to go forward with the case, the district attorney will look at those reasons, she says. The DA will also look at the evidence, and whether parents are acting in the child's best interest.

'It's a really interesting situation the DA is in, because there have been the passage of constitutional amendments about victims' rights and lots of legislation over the last 10 years,' McFarlane says. 'Those laws put the DA in a position of protecting victims' interests in the case. They kind of have this conflict going on.'

In the end, McFarlane says, 'it's quite common that (the DA) will make a decision to charge even though the victim doesn't want to do that.'

The typical sentence for a juvenile in a sex crime case, according to McFarlane, is three years of probation including treatment, and lifetime registration as a sex offender.

'Hazing blueprint'

There's no way to tell how frequently hazing occurs at local schools.

Portland Public Schools does not track discipline data related explicitly to hazing, as it does for bullying and harassment.

The district has an administrative directive (official policy) on student clubs: 'No installation ceremonies may be conducted that are not approved by the school, and no installation ceremonies may be conducted unless they are open to the school staff and the parents of electees. There can be no screening or trials of prospective members. There shall be no so-called 'hell night' or 'hell week' or 'hazing' initiation activities or activities that are humiliating, demeaning or unlawful.'

Nearby school districts have similar policies in place, lumping hazing with similar behaviors in case students and staff define it differently.

Depending on what kind of information comes from the police investigation at Grant, district spokesman Matt Shelby says, school administrators will take actions to prevent such incidents in the future.

'Anytime something like this happens, it raises everybody's awareness,' he says. 'It's a time to remind students and coaches about expectations, but also families about how to report these types of things.'

Lipkins says that whoever reported the incident at Grant should be considered a hero, and rewarded as such. 'Being a hero is breaking the code of silence,' she says. 'It's that code of silence that keeps people from coming forward.'

When it comes to hazing at school, Lipkins says, the consequences must be harsh, such as losing the ability to play on any school athletic team. If the offenders are just kicked off one team, she says, they'll take their hazing tradition with them.

She advises schools to make it easier for anyone - victims and bystanders -to file anonymous or confidential complaints. She says coaches should take a hard line against hazing. And she says schools must show families and staff that everyone has the power and duty to intervene and report such incidents.

If not, Lipkins says, the 'hazing blueprint' continues: 'They repeat the pattern and feel like they have the right to repeat it. They probably feel uncomfortable or feel it's wrong, but feel it's their duty to repeat the tradition. Because of the code of silence, they don't feel like they'll get in trouble.'

Each time it's repeated, according to Lipkins, the perpetrator might add more violence or sexuality.

'It gets worse and worse,' she says.

Ten things to know about school hazing

• 1.5 million high school students are hazed each year.

• Nearly 48 percent of all high school students report being subjected to hazing activities.

• 43 percent were subjected to humiliating activities, and 30 percent performed potentially illegal acts as part of their initiation.

• Both male and female students report high levels of hazing.

• Every kind of high school group is involved in hazing, including 24 percent of the students involved in church groups.

• 10 percent of all college students admit to being hazed in high school.

• 79 percent of NCAA athletes report being hazed initially in high school.

• 25 percent were first hazed before the age of 13.

• 92 percent of the high school students will not report a hazing; of those students, 59 percent know of hazing activities and 21 percent admit to being involved in hazing.

• 48 percent of the students acknowledge participating in activities which are defined as hazing, and 29 percent did potentially illegal things to join a group. However, only 14 percent admit to being 'hazed' - which underscores the disconnect between how adults and students define the word.

Sources: Alfred University Study, Dr. Norm Pollard, Dr. Elizabeth Allen, et. al, 1999; National Study of Student Hazing (prelim), Dr. Elizabeth Allen and Dr. Mary Madden 2006; Dissertation, Dr. Colleen McGlone, 2005; Insidehazing, Dr. Susan Lipkins, 2006