Rethinking Hazing Laws After a Horrifying Incident in Ellis County

Hazing laws come up short if you’re not on a college campus.

By Rhonda FanningApril 9, 2015 12:11 pm|

When a hazing incident makes the news, we usually think of college campuses – a fraternity rush gone wrong, or an initiation ritual for a sport team.

But not always. That was the case this week in Texas.

Five members of the Ellis County Volunteer Fire Department have been charged with aggravated sexual assault. The incident allegedly occurred back in January as part of a hazing ritual for new recruits.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, the men held a male recruit down and sexually assaulted him with a broomstick, and then a sausage. Another person, who also been arrested, filmed the incident. The video captured the cheers and laughter of fellow firefighters.

“This is all about loyalty and trust – but it’s more than that,” says Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor at Franklin College and member of HazingPrevention.org. “Being a fireman is a high-status job … there’s status and power there, and this was definitely a power play.”

“The problem with this kind of hazing,” Nuwer says, “is that, with the victim, he becomes a pariah if he says something. And it isn’t about bonding in this case – it’s really a form of terrible bullying, And it must have been really shaming to have a woman in the room photographing while this ordeal was taking place.”

Nuwer says hazing laws need to be reconsidered nationwide.

“This same thing happened in a different context in South Carolina, and the law did not apply to high school students. In a case near Hilton Head, there was a student who was raped, sodomized, and the sheriff would not press charges because the law did not cover it.”