Hazing is a term used to describe various ritual and other activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group. Hazing is seen in many different types of groups, including in gangs, clubs, sports teams, military units, and workplaces. In the United States it is often associated with fraternities and sororities.

Hazing is often prohibited by law and may be either physical (violent) or mental (degrading) practices. It may also include nudity or sexually oriented activities. Hazing often serves a deliberate purpose, of building solidarity. Persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort.

In some continental European languages, terms with a ‘christening’ theme or etymology are preferred (e.g. ‘baptême’ in French, in Dutch ‘doop’) or variations on a theme of naivety and the rite of passage such as a derivation from a term for freshman (e.g. ‘bizutage’ in French, ‘ontgroening’ (‘de-green[horn]ing’) in Dutch, or a combination of both, such as in the Finnish ‘mopokaste’ (literally ‘moped baptism,’ moped being the nickname for freshmen, stemming from the concept that they would be barred from riding a full motorcycle at their age). In Latvian, the word ‘iesvētības,’ which literally means ‘in-blessings’ is used, it also stands for religious rites of passage, especialy confirmation. In Swedish, the term used is ‘nollning,’ literally ‘zeroing.’ In Spain, the term is ‘novatada’ from ‘novato’ meaning newcomer, and in Portugal ‘praxe,’ which literally means ‘habit.’ In the Italian military, instead, the term used was ‘nonnismo,’ from ‘nonno’ (literally ‘grandfather’), a jargon term used for the soldiers who had already served for most of their draft period. A similar equivalent term exists in the Russian military, where a hazing phenomenon knowing as ‘Dedovshchina’ exists, meaning roughly ‘grandfather’ or the slang term ‘gramps’ (referring to the senior corps of soldiers in their final year of conscription).

Often most or all of the endurance, or at least the more serious ordeal, is concentrated in an orgiastic collective session, which may be called hell night, or prolonged to a hell week and/or retreat or camp, sometimes again at the pledge’s birthday (e.g. by birthday spanking), but some traditions keep terrorizing pledges over a long period, resembling ‘fagging,’ a traditional educational practice in British boarding schools, whereby younger pupils were required to act as personal servants to the most senior boys.

Hazing has been reported in a variety of social contexts. Sports teams ranging from amateur junior football leagues to professional clubs have used ritual hazing ceremonies to initiate new members, especially when the new person is younger than the rest of the team. Chapters of Greek letter organizations have developed a number of complex hazing rituals that range from demeaning tasks to humiliating ceremonies. Other groups within university life that have hazing rituals include competition teams, fan clubs, social groups, secret societies and even certain service clubs, or rather their local chapters (such as some modern Freemasons; not traditional masonic lodges). While hazing is less common in high schools, some secondary education institutions have developed hazing rituals.

The armed forces in various countries have long had hazing rituals, which often involve violence and punishments. The US military defines hazing as unnecessarily exposing a fellow soldier to an act which is cruel, abusive, oppressive, or harmful. The Army maintains that they do not condone hazing, as it is not congruent with their value system.

It is a subjective matter where to draw to line between ‘normal’ hazing (somewhat abusive) and a mere rite of passage (essentially bonding; proponents may argue they can coincide). Furthermore, as it must be a ritual initiation, a different social context may mean a same treatment is technically hazing for some, not for others, e.g., a line-crossing ceremony, an initiation rite in navies that commemorates a sailor’s first crossing of the Equator. Originally, the tradition was created as a test for seasoned sailors to ensure their new shipmates were capable of handling long rough times at sea. Passing the equator at sea is hazing for the sailor while the extended (generally voluntary, more playful) application to passengers is not.

Typical hazing practices include: personal servitude; sleep deprivation and restrictions on personal hygiene; yelling, swearing and insulting new members/rookies; being forced to wear embarrassing or humiliating attire in public; consumption of vile substances or smearing of such on one’s skin; brandings; physical beatings; binge drinking and drinking games; sexual simulation and sexual assault.

The practice of ritual abuse among social groups is poorly understood. This is partly due to the secretive nature of the activities, especially within collegiate fraternities and sororities, and in part a result of long-term acceptance of hazing. Thus, it has been difficult for researchers to agree on the underlying social and psychological mechanisms that perpetuate hazing. In military circles hazing is sometimes assumed to test recruits under situations of stress and hostility. Although in no way a recreation of combat, hazing does put people into stressful situations that they are unable to control, which allegedly should weed out those weaker members prior to being put in situations where failure to perform will cost lives. A portion of the training course known as SERE (Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape) simulates as closely as is feasible the physical and psychological conditions of a POW camp. Part of the purpose of SERE training is to train and test soldiers on their ability to resist methods of interrogation.

The problem with this approach, according to opponents, is that the stress and hostility comes from inside the group, from the assumed ‘good guys,’ and not from outside as in actual combat situation, creating suspicion and distrust towards the superiors and comrades-in-arms. Willing participants may be motivated by a desire to prove to senior soldiers their stability in future combat situations, making the unit more secure, but blatantly brutal hazing can in fact produce negative results, making the units more prone to break, desert or mutiny than those without hazing traditions, as observed in the Russian army in Chechnya, where units with the strongest traditions of dedovschina were the first to break and desert under enemy fire. At worst, hazing may lead into fragging incidents (killing a superior officer).

Outside of the criminal context, a form of the syndrome may take place in military basic training, in which ‘training is a mildly traumatic experience intended to produce a bond,’ with the goal of forming military units which will remain loyal to each other even in life-threatening situations. It would be more difficult to make such a case in favor of hazing ceremonies in academic bodies and social clubs, where the origin is imitating educational (parental and school) discipline in substitute households and internal teaching.

A variety of approaches have been employed to prevent hazing, including strong disciplinary and corrective measures for known cases, implementation of athletic, behavioral, and academic standards guiding recruitment; provisions for alternative bonding and recognition events; and law enforcement involvement in monitoring, investigating, and prosecuting hazing incidents.

Hazing injuries are often not recognized for their true cause in emergency medical centers. The doctor said hazing victims sometimes hide the real cause of injuries out of shame or to protect those who caused the harm. In protecting their abusers, hazing victims can be compared with victims of domestic violence.

Hazing incidents including ‘beating or kicking to the point of traumatic injury or death, burning or branding, excessive calisthenics, being forced to eat unpleasant substances, and psychological or sexual abuse of both males and females.’ Reported coerced sexual activity is sometimes considered ‘horseplay’ rather than rape.

Although not a part of the training program of the British Royal Marines, there is a tradition (in many military – especially elite – corps) of subjecting the newly trained ranks to a hell night-like ‘joining run,’ a macho preparation of men in the prime of their lives for the ordeals of warfare, going beyond what most civilians (and even many service personnel) would find acceptable; it usually combines humiliation (such as nudity) with physical endurance.

In Russia the victim of a high-profile hazing attack, Andrei Sychyov required the amputation of his legs and genitalia after he was forced to squat for three hours whilst being beaten and tortured by a group on New Year’s Eve 2005. The brutal attack and its horrific consequences highlighted the widespread problem of dedovshchina – or hazing – in the Russian armed forces.

Before the Great Depression, US hazing was highly regarded by benevolent fraternities such as the Mooses and the Freemasons. The DeMoulin Catalog is a catalog of many hazing implements used, most famously the electric carpet. In many cases, the hardest abuse is usually only enacted for a photograph (sometimes even posted on the Internet) or video. Spanking is done mainly in the form of paddling among fraternities, sororities and similar (e.g., athletic) clubs, sometimes over a lap, a knee, furniture or a pillow (pile), but mostly with the victim ‘assuming the position,’ i.e., simply bending over forward. A variation of this (also as punishment) is trading licks. This practice is also used in the military (where a new round of hazing can follow a promotion). Alternative modes exist (including bare-buttock paddling, strapping and switching, as well as mock forms of antiquated forms of physical punishments such as stocks, walking the plank and running the gauntlet).

The hazee may be humiliated by being hosed by sprinkler, buckets or hoses; covered with dirt or with (sometimes rotten) food, even urinated upon. Olive or baby oil may be used to ‘show off’ the bare skin, for wrestling or just slipperiness, e.g., to complicate pole climbing. Cleaning may be limited to a dive into water, hosing down or even paddling the worst off. They may have to do tedious cleaning including swabbing the decks, cleaning the toilets with a toothbrush. In fraternities, pledges often must clean up a mess intentionally made by brothers which can include fecal matter, urine, and dead animals.

The hazee may have to wear an imposed piece of clothing, outfit, item or something else worn by the victim in a way that would bring negative attention to the wearer. Examples include a uniform (e.g. toga, especially in Greek societies); a leash and/or collar (also associated with SM bondage); infantile and other humiliating dress and attire (e.g., diapers, underwear (sometimes of the opposite sex; sometimes wet to make it see-through) or a condom on the head); cross-dress or fake breasts; wearing just a box or a barrel; bunny costume; a phallus or dildo, even in explicitly homo-erotic poses. In some cases, the hazee may be completely or partially in a state of nudity (with or without cupping of the genitals). A variation in use in Germany is the ‘clothesline,’ i.e., contributing garments (usually remaining decent, e.g., in swim suit) to form a long line. In Sweden, gymnasium (high school, 16 to 19 years old) and university also use the clothes line. Girls strip to their thong, but may keep their bra on if they wish; boys are always expected to finish up naked, thus being jeered at and humiliated by the crowd. Holding lowered trousers, shorts and/or underwear up ‘revealingly.’

Markings may also be made on clothing or bare skin. They are painted, written, tattooed or shaved on, sometimes collectively forming a message (one letter, syllable or word on each pledge) or may receive tarring and feathering (or rather a mock version using some glue) or branding. If half-naked, topless or with bare feet, the victim may be subjected to thorough and prolonged tickling until helpless with laughter.

Submission to the seniors is common. Abject ‘etiquette’ required of pledges or subordinates may include prostration, kneeling, literal groveling, kissing/licking/washing/worshipping/massaging/rubbing/sucking/ body parts usually genitalia.

Other physical feats may be required, such as calisthenics and other physical tests, such as push-ups (sometimes a hazer keeps his/her foot on the pledges’ back), jumping jacks (under near impossible conditions), sit-ups, mud wrestling, forming a human pyramid or dog piling, climbing a greased pole, skinny diving, leap-frog, human wheel-barrow etc., often with some twist. Exposure to the elements may be required, such as swimming or diving in cold water or snow. Degrading positions and tasks include being locked up in a cage or barrel, commanded to move on all fours or crawl on their bellies, eat or fetch ‘doggy style,’ kiss or urinate in public.

Orientation tests may be held, such as abandoning pledges far or fettered without transport, in the dark and/or in a public place. Dares include jumping from some height (bungee or in water), stealing from police or rival teams and obedience. Blood pinning among military aviators (and many other elite groups) to celebrate becoming new pilots by piercing their chests with the sharp pins of aviator wings.

On his first crossing the equator in military and commercial navigation, each ‘pollywog’ (sailor; sometimes even passengers) is subjected to a series of endurances usually including running and/or crawling a gauntlet of abuse (soiling, paddling, etc.) and various scenes supposedly situated at King Neptune’s court.

A pledge auction is a variation on the slave auction, where people bid on the paraded (often exposed) pledges. It is held either as an open fund raiser where the general public (or just an invited sorority) can bid, or internally to decide which brother can impose his fantasies on which pledge. Sometimes, male pledges’ prices depend on how little clothing the boy is allowed to wear.

The Happy Corner, known in Taiwan as aluba (‘hitting the tree’), Hong Kong (as ‘corning’ or being ‘corned’), and Norway (as ‘stolping,’ ‘poling,’ or ‘gjelling,’ ‘gelding’), involves rubbing a lifted boy’s groin against a tree or pole. ‘Treeing’ is binding up with ropes, chains, handcuffs or other means, to a tree or pole, or in some variations on a cross (mock crucifixion) wearing only a loincloth, underwear, a diaper, or sometimes even nothing at all, to be helplessly abused and/or bound.

The term ‘tunnel’ seems to have various meanings in different traditions, such as a spanking tunnel or belt-line. It may be appealing as a symbolic rite of passage: one goes in as a rookie and emerges as something of a brother or teammate.

Hazing also occurs for apprentices in some trades. In printing, it consists of applying bronze blue to the apprentice’s penis and testicles, a color made by mixing black printers ink and dark blue printers ink, which takes a long time to wash off. Similarly, mechanics get their groins smeared with old dirty grease.

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