Hazing or Sexual Assault: Is Either Acceptable?

Bullying and hazing have become cause for ever greater concern over the past couple of decades. Many people who think that American society has become too litigious, or who believe that too many people are being categorized as “victims”, will take a keen interest in a recent case out of Wayne County in Tennessee. It is a case that would seem to be perched keenly atop the crux of the argument.

When a Prank is Not a Prank

Two seventh grade basketball players at Waynesboro Middle School were subjected to sexual assaults – one of which was brushed off as a “bad prank” by the team’s coach. In the more serious incident, a boy was found to have been sodomized by older players with a felt-tip marker – reprehensible conduct which ought not be excused or tolerated. The other – the “bad prank” – involved a student being convinced to do a blindfolded sit-up while a teammate stood before him with his pants down.

The $100,000 Question

The former seems to be a classic case of sexual assault; forcibly inserting objects into a child’s rectum would be cause for alarm in any time or place. The old “atomic sit-up” joke, which has been around for as long as have organized team sports, may not seem (to some) to be anywhere near that same level. The coach admitted to having described that particular hazing technique to his team – although he denies ever having condoned such a thing.

The parents of the two boys initially sought damages in the millions, but wound up having a jury award them with a whittled-down request for $100,000 apiece (a decision that the school has indicated it may appeal). As for the students involved in the hazing, they received surprisingly light penalties, and thus may never realize the potential harm that bullying can cause, as so many parents have tragically discovered in recent years.