How Hazing Works

By: Dave Roos

Hazing Outside of College: High School, the Military and the Workplace

Even though hazing is most common on college campuses, it doesn't mean it's confined to one age group, gender or social environment. Hazing behavior has been documented in high schools as well as the workplace.

Forty-seven percent of the more than 11,000 students who responded to the National Student Hazing Study survey reported having experienced at least one hazing behavior in high school. A fraction of those students — 9 percent of males and 4 percent of females — even admitted to hazing other people in high school [source: Allan].


While hazing undoubtedly occurs across many kinds of high school organizations, sports teams have drawn the most attention in recent years thanks to several high-profile cases of male students being sexually assaulted during hazing rituals. According to a 2013 review of court documents, 40 high-school boys reported being sodomized with various objects by teammates in a single year. Ten years earlier, there were only three such incidents [source: Bloomberg News].

In the military, hazing is also a serious and underreported problem. A 2016 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 12 percent of active-duty service members reported that hazing occurred in their units. When GAO investigators interviewed focus groups of soldiers, they found that nearly half of female Marines reported being hazed (compared to more than a third of male Marines), as well as 25 percent of both male and female sailors.

It can be difficult in the military to draw the line between discipline and hazing. Viewed in a certain light, the physical exertion and psychological stress of basic training could look like hazing. After all, the prototypical drill sergeant doesn't ask recruits to drop and give him 20; he screams it directly in their face. But pushing them to the extreme to build strength and solidarity is different than hazing.

In its report, the GAO found that different branches of the armed forces had their own definitions of hazing, and this lack of uniformity — plus the overall vagueness of the definitions — had led to underreporting and general confusion about what and where behavior crossed the line.

For example, there's a tradition in the military of unit leaders encouraging soldiers to "take care of their own," which can involve punishing individuals who are slacking. Unfortunately, these punishments can take the form of violent hazing and beatings. The suicide of 21-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Harry Lew came after he was kicked, punched and forced to do heavy exercise in full body armor by his fellow Marines after he fall asleep on watch [source: Lamothe].

There's also a crossover in the military between hazing and sexual assault, particularly involving male-on-male assaults. While an astonishing 40 percent of female soldiers report being sexual assaulted in the military, 13 percent of males are also sexually assaulted, often as part of hazing rituals [source: Lamothe].

The same conditions that spawn hazing in the military — namely a hierarchical power structure with rigid ideas about what constitutes "manliness" — exist in some workplaces, particularly quasi-military fields like police, fire departments and security personnel.

In two separate hazing incidents in Houston, Texas, firefighters were accused of a "waterboarding-like" attack on a new recruit and sodomizing another with a sausage [source: Steele]. In New Jersey, airport security officers with U.S. Customs and Border Protection were arrested in 2017 for multiple vicious hazing attacks involving new hires and something called the "rape table" [source: CBS News].