When we hears about hazing in sports, we tend to hear about the vicious treatment and its aftermath on the victim. We rarely hear about how it plays out in the community when the victim speak up. For one boy, it did not play out well:
At the state high-school wrestling tournament in Denver last year, three upperclassmen cornered a 13-year-old boy on an empty school bus, bound him with duct tape and sodomized him with a pencil. [...]
The students were from Norwood, Colorado, a ranching town of about 500 people near the Telluride ski resort. Two of the attackers were sons of Robert Harris, the wrestling coach, who was president of the school board. The victim’s father was the K-12 principal.
After the principal reported the incident to police, townspeople forced him to resign. Students protested against the victim at school, put “Go to Hell” stickers on his locker and wore T-shirts that supported the perpetrators. The attackers later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, according to the Denver district attorney’s office.
As the article notes, this is not the first time these kinds of sexual assault hazing rituals have happened. The article reports that in 2009 a study found that 10 percent of boys reported some type of sexual assault at the hands of their peers. The hazing is not limited to junior high and high school students either. College students also face similar types of hazing.
Part of the reason it is so common is because some view it as a rite of passage:
After witnessing an attack on a 16-year-old in July, varsity coach Michael DiVincenzo allegedly congratulated the victim and asked him “if it was all good,” according to a police report. During a freshman drill, he was alleged to have told players they would be sodomized by the varsity team if they failed to communicate effectively, according to a police report.
While anti-hazing laws make it easier to prosecute such cases, they only work if people report the crimes. If victims face a social backlash for reporting it, they will be less likely to come forward.
This is why there needs to be a cultural shift. Too many people think that this is harmless because the victims are boys. Boys are expected to just shake it off. As the coach in this case told the victim’s father, “This happens 1,000 times a day around the U.S.” And the town’s response speaks volumes:
“I got bullied as a kid because I had long hair and earrings,” said Eilmann, a 45-year-old carpenter. “I played football, baseball and soccer and the older kids bullied me. But we always shook hands and it would be over with. But today, you can get prosecuted. It has all gone too far.”
Frustrated by the response of town and school officials, the principal finally reported the incident to the Denver police. The police sent investigators to Norwood and on April 23 they arrested the three boys, charging them as juveniles with kidnapping, sexual assault and false imprisonment, according to the district attorney’s office.
On news of the arrests, anger exploded in Norwood, and it was aimed squarely at the principal and his 13-year-old son. The school board held a series of private meetings with parents who clamored for the principal’s dismissal.
“It should have been left alone,” said Sheldon Cline, a 54-year-old electrician. “It should have been handled through the system here. If you publicize it, it gets blown out of proportion.”
Let us recap that: the coach’s sons and another boy rape the principal’s son. The boy’s brother hears about it and tells his father. The principal asks his son, who then confirms what happened. The principal confronts the coach, who first denies it and then admits it, but thinks it is not a big deal. The boy gets harassed at school for telling, and the town demands the principal’s dismissal. The harassment is so much that the principal reports it to the police, who then file charges. The town then turns their anger onto a 13-year-old boy who did not want people sticking things into his body without his permission.
I have stated before that people tend to have an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality when it comes to crime. It is not that people want these things to happen so much as they do not want to hear about them when they do. They do not want anything to shake up their status quo. It is doubtful that something like this never happened before, particularly under this coach. So when this boy reported the assault, he shook things up, hence the hostile response.
This boy did not deserve to be treated as he was, either by the other boys or by the town. Yet their attitude is so locked that it is hard to see them learning anything from this other than how to bully family into leaving.