No, It’s Not ‘Hazing’: It’s Sexual Assault

Trigger warning: This blog will cover topics including sexual abuse and assault. Please proceed with self-care in mind.

Hazing is a topic that we often see in the news these days. A teenager tragically died at Penn State University this past winter as a result of hazing, and 18 of his Beta Theta Pi “brothers” have been charged in relation to his death. I put the term brothers in quotation marks because their behavior was so far from brotherly, noble or caring that they do not deserve to be called such a name.

Words matter. The words we use to describe events matter, especially when it comes to discussing horrific crimes like sexual assault. And that’s part of the problem with hazing. The word is used to cover a whole litany of egregious behavior.

Sodomizing a team member with a coat hanger? Hazing. Unwanted sexual touching on the baseball team? Hazing. Suicide as a result of being sexually assaulted with a broom stick? A casualty of being hazed by the football team.

Calling these inhumane acts “hazing” does a disservice to the victims and to society at large. This is sexual assault. It’s not boys being boys. It’s not all in good fun. It’s not a harmless silly ritual. It’s incredibly violating, unspeakably cruel, and devastating for the victims.

Even more so because they often suffer in silence. Male victims of sexual violence tend to be invisible in our culture. There are few “safe spaces” for these victims, few shelters and specialists which cater to the very important needs of male sexual abuse survivors. These boys and men suffer alone, afraid to even speak to their friends and family about the issue because they are too wracked with shame and self-hatred. Because boys don’t cry, and men can’t get raped, and hey, if a female teacher puts the moves on a young male student, he’s just one lucky duck.

Just look to the newly elected President of France Emmanuel Macron. He was just 15 years old when his now-wife Brigitte was his drama teacher. (She is 24 years his senior.) Although the pair didn’t marry for 10 years, their relationship began while Macron was still a minor. Brigitte says that she tried to ‘put off his advances,’ but she eventually left her husband and pursued a relationship with him.

Put off his advances? If the genders were reversed in this situation, the public at large would want the male teacher’s head on a platter…and for good reason! It doesn’t matter if a student is the one initiating the sexual advances, it is never appropriate for a teacher to even consider such a scenario. It’s an abuse of trust and certainly not legal here in America based on our statutory rape laws (although in France, the age of consent is 15, so technically Brigitte was not breaking French law.)

Still, the situation would be appalling to most people if Brigitte was a man and Emmanuel was a female student. Why is that we are so eager to defend the purity and safety of young girls, but we can’t muster even a raised eyebrow when it comes to our young boys? Why do we still think that young male victims of sexual abuse should be applauded rather than defended? And would we still be calling it ‘hazing’ if female students were sodomized or stripped of their clothing or forcibly had their pubic hair shaved?

I think not. We would realize that these crimes are sexual assault and that the perpetrators need to charged and punished as such. It’s time we start asking ourselves why we are so willing to minimize crimes of sexual assault against men. Why we don’t have the same level of outrage when a teen boy is stripped and duct taped to a light pole, or why we just laugh it off when boys slap a prone, naked teammate with towels. Just look at the hugely popular 1993 movie “Dazed and Confused”—star Ben Affleck spends the bulk of the movie trying to find and locate young freshman boys to spank with his paddle, while the entire community just turns a blind (and approving) eye. It’s played for comedy…sure Affleck is a jerk, but the spanking is just seen as a rite-of-passage, one that the boys are meant to endure stoically and without complaint. No wonder so many male victims of similar real-life crimes are so afraid to come forward. They probably assume no one would care, and that they would be mocked for being a ‘baby’ about the issue in the first place.

What’s the solution?

First, we need to change the way we talk about these crimes in the media and in our homes. Until we do, the perpetrators will continue to get off light, and the victims will continue to suffer alone and without resources.  Second, we need to start talking about sexual abuse in a gender non-specific way. We need to stop assuming that a rape victim is always female, or that a rapist is always male. We need to start making safe spaces for these victims to come together, share their truths, and heal. We need to offer them the community and support that they were looking for from their frat brothers in the first place, before they ended up being attacked and humiliated. Let’s show these victims what real brotherhood is about.

Visit Male Survivor for more on this important issue, and for resources for male sexual abuse victims in your area.

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