Dear Len: I understand why it is difficult from an outside perspective to understand why someone would subject themselves to the abuse of hazing. As a hazing prevention expert, it is one of the most common questions I get.
But when we stop and think for just a moment about the pain of social rejection, and read the studies showing how traumatic this can be, it is much easier to see the reasons behind someone’s willingness to go along with whatever is asked of them in order to be part of a group with perceived social status whether a fraternity, sports team or elite marching band.
On another note, I want to suggest that blaming the victim is NEVER a good solution. This has been commonplace in sexual assault situations, and thankfully is becoming less so, and even of late in domestic violence as well, but it is not ok to ask why someone would subject themselves to this kind of abuse.
There are a variety of reasons why they do. It is more important, instead, to talk about how we can break the cycle of abuse whether from hazing, assault or other types of violence. Particularly in the case of hazing, people are often doing to others what was done to them. In order to change behavior, we have to help them understand the real harm that is done by having more victims speak up and tell their stories. The shame they already feel at perhaps feeling like they are weak because they “couldn’t take it” is often enough to keep them from speaking up, but when we heap more blame upon them, there is little chance of them coming forward.
I speak to hundreds of college students each year about this topic, and it is my goal to bring hazing out of the shadows and into the light of day by encouraging conversations. Only when we can break the silence and secrecy of these practices can we truly make progress.
Hazing has been around for centuries, and it is only really in the past 30 years or so that society has really started to have a problem with it. Hazing used to be documented in high school and college year books and other sources with bemusement.
I appreciate your asking the question, and allowing for discussion about this issue. I hope it will lead to more conversation and understanding of this serious problem.
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