Reported incidents of boy-on-boy sexual hazing on the rise

Here and Now

Boys hazing other boys is becoming increasingly common, a new survey found. (Photo by Michael Gilliam/Flickr.)

In an empty bus at the Colorado state high-school wrestling tournament last year, a 13-year-old boy was trapped by three upperclassmen, bound with duct tape and sodomized with a pencil.

Two of the attackers were the sons of the school's wrestling coach — who was also the president of the school board at the time.

The victim's father, the school’s principal, who is not being named to protect the boy's identity, reported the incident to police, the vice president of the school board and others, trying to get help.

But the small town struck back at him. Some residents made T-shirts that supported the attackers; some students wore them to school. The father eventually resigned as principal and moved his family out of town.

The Norwood case is part of a much larger problem: the increasing numbers of boy-to-boy sexual hazing incidents.

Ten percent of high school boys reported being victims of rape, forced oral sex or other sexual assault, according to a new study by the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Experts say sexual hazing has been increasing in the past decade, with high school hazing fueling college hazing.

"Middle school kids and high school kids are much more aware of these things, this kind of hazing goes on. So by the time they show up in college, or on a sports team, or in a fraternity, or in a dorm room, they may have already been exposed, or heard of, or performed some of these acts," said Jonathan Kaufman, mangaing editor for Bloomberg News. "So it kind of escalates."

Kaufman traveled to the 500-person Colorado town where the boy was attacked, Norwood, and spent a week there investigating the circumstances of the attack.

Boy-to-boy sexual hazing often doesn't illicit the public response that other similar incidents can under different circumstances. 

"If he would have been a female I think it would have been different," the Colorado victim's father said. "And if it was an adult doing it to him, it would have been different."

Kaufman said the most surprising aspect of his investigation was the behavior of the adults in the town who seemingly didn't understand the impact of the incident. 

"I was so mad and then you just really can't believe it happened. You don't really know what to do right away," the boy's father said. The father said the attackers' father didn't ask to talk about the incident with either him or his son. And when investigated the police launched their investigation, he tried to use his position as school board president to have the victim's father fired as principal.

Ultimately, however, the father chose to move his family. The three teenagers responsible for the incident ultimately were punished with in-school suspensions for one day. The Denver district attorney, however, brought criminal charges against all three students responsible for the attack.

One pleaded guilty to sexual contact without consent. The other two pleaded guilty to third-degree assault.