It seems like every year you hear about a fraternity or a sports team that ends up hurting a student due to hazing. Sometimes, hazing can even lead to the death of a student. Many cases involve public embarrassment. Even more commonly, hazing involves forced consumption of mass amounts of alcohol, which is depicted in famous movies such as “Animal House.” Massachusetts has tried to address this problem through a series of criminal statutes.
Hazing has been made a criminal offense by M.G.L.A. 269 § 17, which states “Whoever is a principal organizer or participant in the crime of hazing, as defined herein, shall be punished by a fine of no more than the thousand dollars or imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than one year, or both such fine and imprisonment.” The language of the statute shows us that it applies to not only those who actually participate in the hazing but those who are a “principal organizer.” This means that even if you are not present at the time the hazing occurs or participate at all in it, but still tell other people to commit the hazing, you are just as at fault and subject to the penalties listed above. (Picture of buses taken by Loop_oh)
The statute defines hazing as willfully or recklessly endangering the physical or mental health of another student or person through any method of initiation on public or private property. This means that the person doing the hazing must desire to cause harm or know that they are taking a risk of causing harm through their actions and go through with the actions anyway. An example of this is the drinking scenario highlighted earlier; no one in a fraternity intends to harm a pledge when they force them to drink too many drinks at an initiation party. Despite this, they know of the risks of alcohol poisoning that go along with drinking too much, but force pledges to drink too much anyway. The statute also tells us that endangering physical or mental health of another person is actionable. This adds acts of humiliation to the list of actionable offenses such as tying someone to a pole and leaving them there (another movie classic). Finally, the legislature makes it clear that hazing is a crime whether it is done on private or public property.
The crime of hazing is a serious offense, so make sure you and your children know to stay away from initiation practices that could be harmful to others. There are ways of initiation that are not dangerous and just as fun. There has been an issue with enforcement of the law in its 25 year history; however, there have been cases that have been prosecuted.