Hazing is defined as ”any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.” (Allan/Madden, 2008) Hazing is a crime in 44 states.
From what’s been in the Juneau Empire, other media, and what we’re hearing at AWARE and the Juneau Police Department, there is widespread concern and controversy about hazing in Juneau. Why does something that seems so wrong to some appear acceptable to others? We live in a culture where hazing — and what is called hazing — has been seen as normal and even expected behavior. It’s often criminal activity. It’s clearly an abuse of power, a sense of entitlement that the hazer feels and uses to justify hurting or humiliating others.
This sense of entitlement and abuse of power is not unique to hazing. Perpetrators of domestic violence also choose to abuse power and control over another person, and do so with a sense of it being absolutely reasonable. People who abuse power and control over others feel uplifted for the moment they brought the other person down. Yet, it’s a fleeting moment. There’s no pride in abusing another person; in fact, it leaves the hazer and the hazed, the abuser and the abused, with a diminished sense of self.
Victims of hazing, like victims of domestic violence, often don’t disclose their humiliation, degradation, abuse or danger. They minimize it, as does the perpetrator, and tell themselves it wasn’t that bad, or that they somehow deserved it. In fact, victims of hazing are rewarded for their silence; they’re now part of a club/team, the reward for being complicit. They fear retaliation and exclusion. For hazing victims, disclosure means losing the status and opportunity to belong.
It’s the attitude of entitlement, “I have the right to do this to you,” that must be questioned. It’s a choice to hurt another person. If the abuser has an opportunity for internal or external accountability, they may choose to change their behavior. Maybe there’s a school/team consequence, or a criminal justice consequence; maybe the student reflects on their actions and recognizes it for what it is — hurtful and demeaning. They may take responsibility, apologize wholeheartedly and work to change their behavior. On the other hand, if those who are in a position to demand accountability do not do so, it’s unlikely they will change their behavior.
We have a choice about what sort of community we want Juneau to be. Do we want to live in a Juneau where we normalize hazing and violence, or do we want to live in a Juneau where we choose to prevent hazing and violence that is blatantly preventable? Do we want student-athletes to have the opportunity to improve and grow their self esteem, self motivation, work ethics, teamwork, goal setting and interpersonal skills that benefit so many student-athletes?
These are choices for each of us, and our everyday actions support our beliefs and attitudes about these choices. At AWARE and at JPD, we envision a Juneau where the harm and violence that is preventable, is prevented. We envision a Juneau where we intentionally do not humiliate, degrade, abuse or endanger others, where entitlement is not used as power over others, but rather is recognized as a privilege that can be used to uplift. If you or someone you know is a victim of hazing or abuse, please contact JPD at 586-0600 to report a crime, or AWARE at 586-1090 for confidential support and information.
• Saralyn Tabachnick is Executive Director of Aiding Women in Abuse & Rape Emergencies (AWARE), Inc., and Bryce Johnson is Chief of the Juneau Police Department.