While there's no single definition of hazing, there are some core characteristics. Hazing is any activity that's designed to humiliate, degrade, demean, abuse, endanger or intimidate, and that's expected of someone joining a group. Hazing activities also are "irrelevant," meaning that they have nothing to do with training or preparing for the regular activities of the group.
For instance, if a young man wants to try out for the cross-country team at his high school and is required to run several miles before being accepted, that would not be hazing. If, however, he has to run several miles before being allowed to join the French club or if the cross-country team requires him to down several pints of beer or run while wearing a dress, that would be considered hazing. Hazing by nature is psychologically and physically stressful and potentially traumatic [sources: Cimino, Inside Hazing, We Don't Haze].
Hazing exists along a continuum ranging from "stupid if relatively harmless" (having to memorize pages of sorority history) to deeply disturbing (sexual assault, alcohol poisoning, violent beatings) and can include a laundry list of unpleasant activities, including [sources: Allan, FIPG]:
- Being yelled, screamed or cursed at by other members
- Wearing embarrassing clothing or signs in public
- Singing silly songs or perform demeaning skits in front of group members or public
- Performing extreme forms of exercise or holding heavy weights
- Being physically assaulted, pushed, tackled or punched
- Eating disgusting food
- Enduring mock kidnappings
- Acting as an older member's slave
- Undergoing tattooing, piercing or even branding to be initiated
- Being forced to play drinking games
- Being coerced to simulate or perform sex acts
Most importantly, hazing is hazing regardless of whether the individual "chooses" to participate in it. A lot of organizations will justify their hazing behavior by claiming that the people involved chose to be there. That ignores the fact that most people joining a group are lied to about the existence of hazing or told that "it's not really that bad." Until, of course, the pledge or new member is standing out in the woods on a freezing winter night with a burlap sack over his head being beaten with sticks every time he messes up the secret motto.
At that point, what choice exactly does the hazed individual have? If he tries to leave, he'd likely be harassed even more. And what about those close friendships he was forging, or the scholarship he won to play on the football team — is he supposed to just throw those things away? New members know that if they quit or tell authorities what they've experienced, they'll likely be socially ostracized by their group or team, and maybe even the entire community [source: Lipkins].