Trigger Warning: this article includes descriptions of sexual assault.
In recent months, several high profile cases of hazing have surfaced in the media featuring boy on boy sexual violence taking place across American high schools. National news outlets covered multiple stories on the phenomenon known as “anal hazing,” a practice involving forced anal penetration of a victim by one or more perpetrators, using a variety of instruments or their fingers. While many of these attacks have taken place in the context of sports culture, they have also occurred outside of athletic settings, as well as on and off school property. In the past year, more than 40 cases have been documented across the nation, in California, New York, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Massachusetts, and other states. A decade ago there was an average of two or three cases of any type of sexual violence reported among high school-aged boys. The new statistics on anal hazing are disturbing. While research is limited about boy on boy sexual violence overall, a widely cited 2009 study appearing in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence reported that approximately 26% percent of high school boys experience some form of sexual violence from their male peers. Furthermore, it is estimated that only about half of all adolescent victims, that is both male and female, tell anyone about their ordeal, with a mere 6 % of all attacks (both male and female) reported to authorities. In light of these observations, it is clear that reported cases of anal hazing greatly underestimate the actual number of victims.
High school hazing rituals among adolescent boys once involved upperclassmen stuffing freshmen into lockers or garbage bins, teasing, or towel-snapping in the locker room. But recent cases have introduced new and disturbing dimensions to these abusive practices that now seem tame by comparison. Unlike the type of hazing that takes place in college contexts, these practices are absent the initiation rituals commonly found in fraternities, where excessive alcohol consumption or other behaviors play a role in establishing one’s worthiness for admission into the brotherhood. By contrast, in recent cases of anal hazing, there are no pledging objectives propelling the acts, no alcohol is involved, and both victims and perpetrators are minors between 13 and 17 years old.
Recent Cases of Anal Hazing
Many cases of anal hazing occur repeatedly over an extended period of time before they are ever reported. Most incidents also involve multiple victims within the same school rather than a single isolated case. With the recent publicity of these events, it is hoped that victims will be more empowered to report these acts wherever they happen to arise. The following is a sampling of recent cases.
Between April and August 2012, three soccer players at La Puente High School, east of Los Angeles, penetrated other students with a javelin and a broken flagpole. The perpetrators were convicted (of “sexual penetration with a foreign object”) and sentenced in May 2013. Also in California, a Fontana high school student was sodomized with a broom handle and metal concrete-reinforcing bar during masonry class. According to prosecutors, his teacher, Emmanuel De La Rosa was present during the assault but did not intervene. At Nodaway Valley High School located in Greenfield Iowa, members of the wrestling team penetrated a 16-year-old teammate with jump rope handles. At Nodaway, older wrestlers are known to anally haze younger wrestlers as punishment for missing practice or not making weight. Some students quit the team out of fear of being sexually assaulted by senior members of the wresting team.
At New York’s Bronx High School of Science, three members of the school’s track team were arrested for pinning down a freshmen teammate and penetrating him with their fingers, a ritual that repeatedly took place over a three month period on school property. One of the attackers reportedly told the victim: “you need a good fingering!” In Missouri, a boy was sodomized with a water bottle in the school’s locker room while being held upside down by two other students. At Maine West High School, just outside of Chicago, prosecutors report that older soccer players regularly penetrated younger players with fingers and sticks before and during practice. In this case, the coach of the soccer team, Michael DiVincenzo was charged with fostering a hazing culture, one in which he personally threatened younger soccer players with anal penetration by varsity players, should they miss practice or fail to communicate effectively. DiVincenzo was fired from Maine West for sanctioning a hazing culture and failing to report the abuse. In the summer of 2013, three junior varsity soccer players from Somerville High School, just west of Boston, entered a cabin and sexually assaulted three freshmen at a summer camp in western Massachusetts.
In one of the most disturbing cases, a 13-year-old boy was “anally hazed” by three varsity wrestlers at the state’s high school wrestling meet in Denver. Three upperclassmen pinned down the victim on an empty bus, bound him with duct tape and sodomized him with a pencil. All four students were from Norwood, Colorado, who had traveled to Denver to participate in the state tournament. In this case, two of the attackers are brothers and their father, Robert Harris, was coach of the wrestling team, as well as president of the school board. The victim’s father was the school’s principle. Once the principle reported the incident to school officials, they did not bother to report it to police. Superintendent David Crews imposed a oneday in-school suspension for the three attackers, a mere slap on the wrist. Since Crews did not report the incident to police, as he was required to, the principle went to the police himself. After the principle contacted police to report the incident, residents of the town turned against him. The “townies” directed their anger at the principle, his 13-year-old son, and their family for reporting the incident, which they believed brought trouble into their town.
As Sheldone Cline, a town electrician insists, “it should have been left alone.” Another woman, Jennifer Long, a local waitress asks: “How [are] you going to be tough if you don’t get bullied sometimes?” Residents of Norwood overwhelmingly blamed the 13-year-old victim and sided with his attackers, much like the recent Steubenville case from Ohio, in which the town turned against the 16-year-old female rape victim, accusing her of lying and subsequently siding with the two popular high school football players who raped her.
Jessica Bicknase, the mother of one of the attackers in the Norwood case, had t-shirts made with slogans in support of her son and the other two attackers. More than a dozen students wore these t-shirts to school because they believed they were doing the right thing by supporting their hazer friends. After this ordeal, the principle resigned from his position and relocated his family to another town some 200 miles way, upon accepting a new position that paid half his previous salary. Robert Harris, coach of the wrestling team and father of the two attackers is still employed at Norwood. These are merely a sampling of recent cases involving anal hazing that have occurred or been reported in the past year, but it is certainly not the whole picture.
Male Rape and Anal Hazing
It is widely known that school bullying has been taking place in American high schools for decades, and fortunately, in recent years, greater public attention has focused on the issue, fueling anti-bullying campaigns and legislation that prohibits it, as well as protocols in place that require school officials to report bullying practices. However, what we are dealing with here is not an ordinary case of bullying or typical hazing. Anal hazing is a sexual violation; it is a form of sexual assault, making it a more serious infraction. Indeed many prefer to think of the act as sexual assault or rape, but it is not clear that every instance of anal hazing constitutes rape. This is because the legal definition of rape varies greatly from state to state. While rape laws are complex and may not qualify a specific infraction as an instance of rape, the act may still qualify as “sexual assault,” which is a more common expression used in legal discourse. Sexual assault includes acts such as unwelcomed or inappropriate touching (usually of the genitals, breasts, or buttocks), but this is simply not an act comparable to the severity of forced anal penetration, a violation further problematized by attempts to classify the act.
The expression, “anal hazing” hints at a marked distinction from conventional male rape, especially since the practice involves sodomizing the victim with foreign objects or fingers, though no penile-anal contact is part of the act, which is often a key ingredient in conventional accounts of rape. Although the definition of rape differs from state to state and has differed throughout history, in some cases, it may be argued that anal hazing constitutes male rape. In the recent Steubenville high school rape case, in which the sexual assault of a 16-year-old girl was documented and made available on social media, the victim was digitally penetrated by male students though no coitus took place. However, under Ohio law, digital penetration without the person’s consent fits into the definition of rape, and partly for this reason as well as documentation on social media, her two 16-year-old male peers were convicted of rape. Since there is no national standard for the legal definition of rape, in some cases anal hazing may constitute male rape but in most cases it does not.
Patriarchy, Homophobia, and Anal Hazing
There are no easy explanations to account for both the presence and increase of these horrific acts in public schools. But it is very important to ask why are they occurring at this point in time and what might account for their rapid increase. The standard explanations offered by clinical psychologists and other professionals now widely cited in interviews in mainstream media, pin the blame on the presence of an atmosphere that increasingly values hypermasculinity and accompanying acts that demonstrate one’s masculinity and power, especially by practices that humiliate or subordinate members of the peer group. Others point to various aspects of sports culture that views the hazing of younger athletes by older ones as a rite of passage. Hypermasculinity occurs in other contexts apart from high school or intercollegiate sports, an obvious example is its presence in the military. But these are not new findings and they do not adequately account for the invention of a novel form of sexual assault or its recent increase.
Nowhere do we find any mention of patriarchy or internalized homophobia as possible factors propelling the adolescent fascination with anal hazing. But these are factors that should not be overlooked. In citing a useful definition of patriarchy by Heidi Hartmann, she described it as “a set of social relations between men, which have a material base, and which, though hierarchical, establish or create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women.”  If we recognize that children are exposed to patriarchal practices perhaps at a greater rate than hypermasculinity, the link between patriarchy and hazing becomes perspicuous. Children internalize domination by observing the myriad ways in which men dominate women in the private (in the home) and public spheres (society at large). Connecting the link, they soon realize that patriarchy is also effective in dominating other men, or in this case other boys. In this way, they learn that “patriarchy is not simply hierarchical organization, but hierarchy in which particular people fill particular places [italics in the original],”  particularly ones in which domination and oppression of others is normalized and valued, where particular people fill particular places: those who dominate and those who are dominated. As boys intuitively begin to understand the need to dominate rather than be dominated, they fulfill such patriarchal expectations through anal hazing, which then becomes a vehicle for releasing patriarchal pressures.
Nowhere do we find any suggestion that internalized homophobia plays a part in fostering an adolescent culture that views anal penetration as a form of punishment, indeed, the most extreme form of male humiliation. It is after all, gay men who are penetrated, simulating a practice so abhorrent enables the hazer to “faggotize,” that is, to subordinate and degrade the victim with the taint of (passive) homosexuality; for what could possibly be more humiliating for a man than to be anally penetrated? Indeed, even our language alludes to the widespread fear of anal penetration. Common expressions such as “dropped the soap,” “I got screwed,” “I got reamed” “I’m not willing to bend,” or “cover your behind,” enforce this paranoia, because leaving one’s behind exposed entails that one risks getting fucked.
Recent strides for GLBTQ people are fuelling a moral panic among conservative homophobic adolescents. Since 2004, 13 US states have legalized gay marriage with additional candidates on the way. Gays and Lesbians can now serve openly in the US armed forces, due to the repeal of DADT, effective as of September 11, 2011. After lengthy legal battles, gay scouts will now be allowed to join the Boy Scouts of America beginning January 1, 2014 (the ban on openly gay adult scouts still stands). With respect to sports, openly gay athletes and Olympians are now commonplace. The recent and unexpected coming out story of WWE superstar Darren Young was met with broad support. Whereby actors and celebrities once concealed their sexual orientation, coming out declarations are now dismissed as uneventful. All of these strides, and no doubt many others, have contributed to an atmosphere where homophobia is fighting a losing battle, yet surfacing in more subtle ways such as anal hazing, as punishment not only for the weakest link in the group, but as a symbolic act of resistance against GLBTQ liberation.
Of course this does not mean that overt ways of expressing homophobic violence have disappeared. In New York City, residents have recently experienced an upsurge in violent attacks against GLBTQ people, doubling in the past year alone. Recent high profile cases such as the murder of Marc Carson, a 32-year-old gay man who was shot in Greenwich Village after being verbally harassed on the street, or the murder of 21-year-old Islan Nettles, a transgender fashion design student beaten to death on the street, also after being verbally harassed, have reinvigorated calls for greater tolerance, educational campaigns, and protest against vitriolic acts of violence against GLBTQ people.
Afterthoughts: Future Prospects
While the anal hazing craze is not likely to disappear any time soon, it is a disturbing problem that must be addressed not only through legal mechanisms, educational campaigns, and other proper channels, but through philosophical reflection as well. Unsatisfactory accounts that disregard important connections between the politics of anal hazing and significant strides toward social justice leave a great deal of the story untold, particularly as incidents of sexual violence continue to develop in new forms. For instance, in a New York City elementary school recently, an eight-year-old, third grade boy was dragged into a bathroom stall and forced to perform oral sex on three other boys during school hours, his attackers, a fifth grader and two third graders. The transition from anal hazing to oral hazing has already taken place, impacting an even younger generation of victims. One must not shy away from such an uncomfortable topic nor explain it away simply as a case of “boys will be boys,” as Norwood residents attempted to do. Instead one must work toward developing a richer, multicausal spectrum of analysis that would be useful in formulating a deeper understanding of the practice, and effective at helping to reduce or eliminate all forms of sexual hazing.
Bassam Romaya is assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
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Young, Amy M., Melissa Grey and Carol J. Boyd. “Adolescents’ Experiences of Sexual Assault by Peers: Prevalence and Nature of Victimization Occurring Within and Outside of School,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 38 (2009):1072-1083.
 Amy M. Young, Melissa Grey, and Carol J. Boyd, “Adolescents’ Experiences of Sexual Assault by Peers: Prevalence and Nature of Victimization Occurring Within and Outside of School,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 38 (2009): 1072.
 While “anal hazing” is the most common expression used, some articles have used “sodomy hazing,” “sexual penetration,” “anal rape,” “sexual hazing,” or “sexual contact without consent.” Of course, these other expressions are vague and suggest different practices; for instance, “sexual penetration” is ambiguous, it may also refer to forced oral sex or forced vaginal penetration.
 This sums up the explanations offered by William Pollack, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and Susan Stuart, a law professor at Valparaiso University, see Gina Cairney, “Hazing Rituals in High School Sports Becoming More Sexually Violent,” Education Week, July 1, 2013. Available at: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/schooled_in_sports/2013/07/hazing_rituals_in_high_school_sports_becoming_more_sexually_violent.html.
 Heidi Hartmann, “Towards a Definition of Patriarchy,” in Lisa Heldke and Peg O’Connor, eds., Oppression, Privilege, & Resistance: Theoretical Perspectives on Racism, Sexism, and Heterosexism (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004), 143.
 Hartmann, “Towards a Definition of Patriarchy,” 146.
 It is largely for these reasons that the act is unleashed upon same-sex male peers, but not members of an opposite sex peer group. As of this writing, no high profile cases of anal hazing involving high school girls have been reported.
 WWE stands for World Wrestling Entertainment, the same organization formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation, or WWF.