As a former resident of NJ, I was horrified to learn of the hazing incidents that took place at Sayerville War Memorial High School in Sayerville, NJ. It's unknown whether this particular form of hazing is something new this year or if it's been going on for years. As the case is still under investigation, details are still sparse. The few details that have been leaked are quite horrific. Apparently, upperclassmen on the varsity football team would periodically grab a freshman football player, turn off the lights, hold that young man down and precede to assault the boy. Oftentimes, the assaults were sexual in nature and included the forceful insertion of an upperclassmen's finger into the rectum of the young boy. Sometimes the boy would be forced to suck on the finger that had been forcefully shoved into his rectum. For most people, this type of behavior is unthinkable. However, hazing is commonplace in sports, fraternities and the military. What's unusual is the ferocity of the attacks (and yes, these are sexual assaults so I'm going to characterize them as attacks) and the sexual nature of them. These acts are akin to rape and so far, 6 young men have been charged with gross sexual assault among other serious felonies and misdemeanors. The local prosecutor also has the option of charging these boys as adults, which will really increase the stakes as these kids are facing serious jail time.
So, why am I blogging about an "isolated incident in NJ" you ask? Because hazing is commonplace at all levels of sports and your son or daughter could end up as a victim or a defendant, depending on the circumstances. Hazing has traditionally been looked at as, well, tradition. "I went through the ritual so you should to" is the general consensus. The problem is that those who've been victimize now turn around and predate on the younger kids. Because it was done to them, it's OK to do it to someone else. However, this isn't about tradition. It's not about building team camaraderie. It's not about a right of passage. It's about power and control and fear. Period. These are crimes. We're not talking about putting shaving cream in someone's helmet. We're talking about sexually assaulting young boys. Those are serious crimes.
If you have a son or daughter in a sports program, you should really speak with your child. Find out from him or her what the "locker room culture" is and find out if your child has been subjected to hazing or is participating in hazing of other kids. Speak with the coach and find out what kind of oversight is being conducted to ensure your kid is safe. Speak with your child's teachers and find out if there have been any major attitude, emotional or academic changes with your child recently. In short, get involved with your kid's life. It's so important because oftentimes, the signs of hazing are there for everyone to see if only you'd just look. In addition, kids are often dealing with feelings of inadequacy, humiliation and anger over being subjected to hazing and may not come to you with their problems. Therefore, it's up to you to ferret out the issues if they exist.
Now, if your son or daughter has been participating in hazing, you need to determine the severity of the hazing by interviewing your child and/or speaking about it with the coach. What may seem to be "innocent fun" could turn out to be something much, much worse. And of course there are consequences for our actions. Kids can be charged with serious crimes and kids can even be charged as adults, depending on the severity of their actions. Nip it in the bud.
If things have progressed to the point that authorities (school or police) want to interview your child, get an attorney involved immediately. The actions you take (or inaction) can have a serious impact on your child's case. The juvenile system is no joke and no one wants their kids put behind bars. Get an attorney involved. Discuss the case with the attorney and let your attorney decide the best course of action. Sometimes, the attorney can de-escalate the situation and keep the case from going the criminal route. If nothing else, the attorney can protect your child's interests and advise you accordingly on how to proceed. With that said, you should never attempt to go it alone when your child is facing criminal charges. Just because things start out in the juvenile system doesn't mean that your child can't face a lengthy period of incarceration. With the national media storm taking place in Sayerville and the seriousness of the allegations, those kids are looking at the real possibility of facing time behind bars.
Don't let this happen to your child. Have meaningful, daily contact with your child. Get to know him or her as a person. Keep oversight of them (they may resent it but at the end of the day, they need it b/c they're just kids) and stay in close contact with their teachers, coaches and parents of their friends. These type of "Sayerville incidents" are avoidable if more parents make the choice to get involved and talk openly about these issues.
For anyone that is curious about the seriousness of this issue, please click on the following link: NY CBS local news