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How Can I Fight Back Against High School and College Sports Hazing?

In previous posts on our website, we have presented data that is meant to call attention to the physical and emotional dangers of "hazing" by college social organizations such as fraternities and sororities.

In today's post, the sports hazing lawyer at the Doan Law Firm will first explain what is meant by "hazing" before giving examples of how hazing has become something of a "rite of passage" in amateur athletics at the high school and college levels. He will then review some of the legal strategies that may be useful if your son or daughter has been a victim of such practices.

What is "hazing?"

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, hazing is:

any humiliating or dangerous activity expected of a student to belong to a group, regardless of their willingness to participate… Some practices associated with high school hazing carry the potential for serious bodily harm or even death. These practices may include: tattooing, piercing, head-shaving, branding, sleep deprivation, physical punishment (paddling and "red-bellying"), "kidnapping," consuming unreasonable/unacceptable foods or beverages, being deprived of personal hygiene and/or inappropriate sexual behavior.

Coerced sexual activity, in addition to being classified as sexual assault and/or rape, is another form of hazing. Such activity puts victims at risk for injuries, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy.

Alcohol abuse is another significant factor in hazing incidents that feature forced consumption of large amounts of alcohol. [Emphasis added]

In a landmark study, Initiation Rites in American High Schools: A National Survey (Alfred University, 2000), the authors discovered that:

  • 48% of students belonging to groups or teams reported being subjected to hazing, with 30% knowingly performing potentially illegal acts.
  • 25% of those who reported being hazed said that the hazing took place, or began, prior to their 13th birthday
  • practically all students surveyed did not distinguish "fun" from "hazing"

Given the number of reported incidents that could be reasonably described as "hazing" or "hazing-related," the findings of the above-cited study seem to have fallen on the "deaf ears" of those adults given the responsibilities of protecting our children and serving as role models to a generation of impressionable minds.

What are my options if my child was injured during sports hazing?

In many incidents that were later documented as sports hazing, the injured child was not the person who made the formal complaint to school and/or police officials that their injuries were deliberately inflicted by their peers.

If you, as a parent or guardian of a child who was injured as a result of hazing, wish to protect your child from those who seem to think that violence is necessary to "belong," you have three options available to you:

  • File criminal charges
  • File a civil lawsuit
  • File both criminal charges and a civil lawsuit

These options are explained in the following sections.

File criminal charges

Since many of the acts typically done to a hazing victim involve force, or the threat of physical harm if the victim does not comply, such acts are usually prohibited by your state's criminal code (the laws that define what you can't do). Although the exact procedures will vary from state to state, the basics of making a criminal complaint are roughly the same.

Once a complaint is made to a law enforcement official, the complaint is investigated. If that investigation suggests that a crime has been committed, the findings from the investigation can be used to arrest those believed to have the crime. Eventually, the case will be presented in court and a verdict based on the evidence presented will be returned and, if a verdict of guilty is returned, the guilty party can be sentenced to a period of time in jail, a fine, or a combination of jail time and a fine.

File a civil lawsuit

As mentioned above, in a criminal conviction a court will usually order the guilty party to pay a sum of money known as a fine>. When a fine is paid, that money does not go to the victim of the crime but instead goes to the court which accepts the fine on behalf of the state. In a civil lawsuit, any damages awarded (minus attorney fees and court costs) go to the victim.

File both criminal charges and a civil lawsuit

Many parents are unaware of the fact that it is possible for criminal charges and a civil lawsuit to move through the courts at the same time. In fact, this is a relatively common maneuver when the available information supports both a criminal charge as well as a civil lawsuit that asks a court to award damages in order to punish the guilty party as well as to compensate the victim.

In most cases involving any type of hazing, a sports hazing injury lawyer will recommend that both criminal charges and a civil lawsuit be pursued.

Contacting a sports hazing injury lawyer

If there was ever a valid reason to justify hazing of any type, athletic or otherwise, the logic behind that reason has long since been shown to be wrong. Unfortunately, there are still those holding positions of authority who see hazing as "character-building" or "just clean fun." As you have seen, the only way to end hazing is to make it too expensive to be allowed to continue. The most effective way to make hazing too expensive is by filing a lawsuit against those that allow hazing to happen.

When you work with the sports hazing injury lawyer at the Doan Law Firm, we will keep your child's identity (as well as yours) confidential in accordance with both state law and the ethics of the attorney / client relationship. This means that we will not disclose any information about your case unless ordered to do so by the court or without your consent.

We also realize that most families do not have to the resources that are necessary to fully investigate a sports hazing case. At our firm, we are willing to assume full responsibility (including financial) for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a previously-agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.

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  1. After an accident, the responsible party's insurance company may try to reduce the claim amount. Commonly, insurance adjusters are trained to get information from the injured to assist in reducing the claim. Though some insurers are less guilty of this practice than others, it is important to realize that insurance companies are profit-oriented corporations and reducing claims results in increased profits for shareholders. This can create a situation for the injured in which they are offered a settlement that does not truly reflect the damages suffered. If you accept this settlement, you lose the ability to get more money should your injuries require further medical treatments. It is critical that victims get legal assistance in any personal injury case, and The Doan Law Firm is prepared to fight relentlessly for your rights.
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