Common Questions: Hazing FAQ
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We are fraternity hazing lawyers who have been instrumental in holding fraternities accountable on campuses nationwide. Our hazing attorneys have won the largest civil verdict ever handed down for a hazing death, and we were the architects behind one of the first anti-hazing laws that made hazing into a felony offense (Chad Meredith Act).
If you or someone you love was injured due to the actions of a fraternity, athletic organization, or any other kind of student group, learn what you can do to hold them responsible. Call (305) 770-6335 or contact us online to get answers to your questions.
What Is the Definition of Hazing?
The National Collaborative for Hazing Research & Prevention at the University of Maine is one of the only academic centers devoted to the study of hazing behavior. Their official definition of hazing is "any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them, regardless of a person's willingness to participate." This definition is wide enough to include hazing that includes in both official and unofficial social groups, sports organizations, and fraternities—but narrow enough to identify what makes hazing uniquely dangerous: using group coercion to force people to act against their own well-being.
What Are Examples of Hazing?
- Forced consumption of any liquid or food
- Forced sleep deprivation or confinement
- Pressure to commit a crime or a degrading act
- Branding, cutting, or shaving any part of the body
- Forced nudity or partial nudity
- Simulation or actual commitment of a sexual act
- Requiring embarrassing behavior not required of other members
Is Hazing Illegal?
In all but six states, hazing is illegal.
44 states have anti-hazing laws of some kind on the books. Most of these laws punish offenders with fines of varying size. However, there are 10 states where anti-hazing laws include prosecution. That means being found guilty of hazing could include prison time and substantial fines. For example, Florida hazing law (also known as the Chad Meredith Law) makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to commit an act of hazing against an applicant or member that endangers a person's life. If the victim of hazing suffers serious bodily harm or death, the charges are upgraded to a third-degree felony—which could include up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 in fines. Our hazing lawyers were instrumental in the drafting of this law and represented the family of Chad Meredith, whose hazing death led to the creation of the law.
The six states that have no anti-hazing statutes are:
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
Can You Go to Jail for Hazing?
Yes. In 10 states, hazing is a criminal offense. In Florida, hazing is either a first-degree misdemeanor or a third-degree felony. In both cases, conviction comes with either jail time or prison time. If a member of a student organization is found guilty of hazing that put a student at serious bodily risk, then they may be imprisoned for up to 1 year and fined up to $1,000. If a member of a student organization is found guilty of hazing that harms a student, then they'll be charged with a third-degree felony—which comes with up to 5 years of prison time and up to $5,000 in fines.
What Is Fraternity Hazing?
Hazing takes various forms, but the most well-known form is alcohol abuse. Numerous fraternities include traditions that force pledges to drink enormous amounts of alcohol at once—putting pledges at risk for serious harm. One of our hazing lawyers' most recent hazing case—the death of Andrew Coffey—was caused primarily by excessive alcohol consumption.
However, fraternity hazing can take less familiar forms. Being told to perform menial or degrading tasks for a senior member or sleep deprivation, for example, constitutes harassment hazing. Extreme physical exertion or forced consumption are examples of violent hazing. Chad Meredith, whose family we represented after his hazing death, drowned when he was told to swim across Lake Osceola while drunk—a 437-foot distance.
Other pledges have died under similar circumstances—falling down the stairs after only two hours of sleep, being forced into an early-morning run after a night of partying, or attempting to walk across a narrow beam on a pedestrian bridge.
Is Fraternity Hazing Illegal?
In any state where hazing is illegal, fraternity hazing falls under the purview of the law. In other words, fraternity hazing is illegal wherever hazing is illegal. In some states, fraternity hazing behavior is reflected in the way the law is written. For example, Florida's Chad Meredith Act specifically makes it illegal to commit hazing behavior against "members or applicants of student organizations," which includes fraternities (but also includes athletic organizations).
What Does "Hazing Death" Mean?
Hazing death is the term for any hazing behavior that ends in wrongful death. The hazing may not be a direct cause in some deaths—hazing may just contribute to the individual's harm. For example, when Tim Piazza fell down the stairs while looking for an exit, he fatally ruptured his spleen. While the fall itself was not part of the hazing ritual, his drunken stupor was—and thanks to the inaction of his 'brothers,' he was denied the medical help that would have saved his life.
Hazing is dangerous for the well-being of individuals. When a group or organization convinces an individual to sacrifice their independence for the sake of belonging or pledging, it makes them more likely to ignore their body's natural sense of self-preservation. It's how students have felt compelled to drink themselves to death or suffer serious harm.
How Many Kids Have Died from Hazing?
Hazing has killed at least one person on a college campus every year since 1969. Franklin College journalism professor and author of Hazing Hank Nuwer believes approximately 200 students have died from hazing since 1838, and at least 40 of those deaths occurred in the last 10 years. Most of these hazing deaths have occurred due to alcohol poisoning.
However, these numbers are sometimes difficult to confirm. There is currently no centralized database for deaths caused by hazing, and hazing itself has not been given a standardized academic definition until recently. Additionally, many schools and organizations dispute the role hazing played in many student deaths—throwing many records into dispute. Suffice it to say that at least 40 students have died from hazing since 2007. The true number could be far higher.
How Can I Stop Hazing?
As a member, your responsibility is to ensure that you and your fellow members are open to changing your tightly-held traditions. Just because you and your fellow fraternity members were forced to undergo abusive treatment doesn't mean future pledges need to suffer the same. In the end, the best way to address hazing is to speak up. Hold each other accountable as individuals to the events you're planning. As a pledge, speak with the head of student affairs or Greek life on your campus—and make sure you're not just reporting your concerns to a student.
If your organization is unwilling to listen, you'll need to report hazing behavior to campus authorities. Most students are unwilling to do the hard thing and report their 'brothers,' but reporting harmful behavior may end up saving lives—and that's more important than saving a tradition.