Hazing is an often ritualistic test, which may constitute harassment, abuse or humiliation with requirements to perform meaningless tasks. The word is most frequently encountered in the United States and Canada; in the British Commonwealth ragging or fagging is usually used instead. These terms can refer to either physical (sometimes violent) or mental (possibly degrading) practices. In continental European languages terms with a 'christening' theme or etymology are often preferred (e.g. baptême in French) or variations on a theme of naivety and the rite of passage such as a derivation from a term for freshman (e.g. bizutage in French, ontgroening 'de-greenhorning' in Dutch).
Often most or all of the endurance, or at least the more serious ordeal, is concentrated in an orgy-like session, which may be called hell night, or prolonged to a hell week and/or retreat or camp, sometimes again at the pledge's birthday (e.g. by birthday spanking), but some traditions keep terrorizing pledges (a common term for the initiation candidates; alternative terms include newbie, rookie, mainly in athletic teams, and freshman) over a long period, resembling fagging.
Hazing is often used as a method to promote group loyalty and comaraderie through shared suffering, either with fellow participants, past participants, or both. It is sometimes a way of initiation into a social group.
A tentative explanation from evolutionary psychology is that grave hazing can activate the psychological trait known as Stockholm syndrome.
In 1684, Joseph Web was the first person to be expelled from Harvard for hazing.
Hazing has been reported in a variety of social contexts, including:
- Sports teams
- Academic fraternities and sororities. These practices are not limited to American schools, e.g. Swedish students undergo a similar bonding period, known as nollningen, in which all members of the entering class participate.
- College and universities in general. This practice occurs no less in smaller institutions such as the officially sanctioned 'Kangaroo Court' at Quincy University, Illinois.
- Associated groups, like fan clubs, school bands
- Secret societies and even certain service clubs, or rather their local sections (such as some modern US Freemasonry; not traditional masonic lodges)
- Similarly various other competitive sports teams or clubs, even 'soft' and non-competitive ones (such as arts)
- The armed forces — e.g. in the US, hard hazing practices from World War I boot camps were introduced into colleges. In Poland army hazing is called Polish fala "wave" adopted pre-World War I from non-Polish armies. In the Russian army (as formerly the Soviet 'Red Army'), the still often excessive hazing is called "Dedovshchina".
- Police forces (often with a paramilitary tradition)
- Rescue services, such as lifeguards (also drilled for operations in military style)
- In workplaces
- Inmate hazing is also common at confinement facilities around the world, including frequent reports of beatings and sexual assaults by fellow inmates.
It is a subjective matter where to draw to line between "normal" hazing (somewhat abusive) and a mere rite of passage (essentially bonding; proponents may argue they can coincide), and there is a gray area where exactly the other side passes over into sheer degrading, even harmful abuse that should not even be tolerated if accepted voluntarily (serious but avoidable accidents do still happen; even deliberate abuse with similar grave medical consequences occurs, in some traditions even rather often). Furthermore, as it must be a ritual initiation, a different social context may mean a same treatment is technically hazing for some, not for others, e.g. a line-crossing ceremony when passing the equator at sea is hazing for the sailor while the extended (generally voluntary, more playful) application to passengers is not.
The practice of ritual abuse among social groups is poorly understood. This is partly due to the secretive nature of the activities, especially within collegiate fraternities and sororities, and in part a result of long-term acceptance of hazing. Thus, it has been difficult for researchers to agree on the underlying social and psychological mechanisms that perpetuate hazing.
In military circles hazing is sometimes assumed to test recruits under situations of stress and hostility. Although in no way a recreation of combat, hazing does put people into stressful situations that they are unable to control, which alledgedly should weed out those weaker members prior to being put in situations where failure to perform will cost lives. The problem with this approach, according to opponents, is that the stress and hostility comes from inside the group, from the assumed "good guys", and not from outside as in actual combat situation, creating suspicion and distrust towards the superiors and comrades-in-arms. A possible argument against the Stockholm Syndrome theory is that in order to be willing participants recruits may be motivated by a desire to prove to senior soldiers their stability in future combat situations, making the unit more secure. Blatantly brutal hazing can in fact produce negative results, making the units more prone to break, desert or mutiny than those without hazing traditions, as observed in the Russian army in Chechnya, where units with the strongest traditions of dedovschina were the first to break and desert under enemy fire. At worst, hazing may lead into fragging incidents.
Outside of the criminal context, a form of the syndrome may take place in military basic training, in which "training is a mildly traumatic experience intended to produce a bond," with the goal of forming military units which will remain loyal to each other even in life-threatening situations.
It would be more difficult to make such a case in favour of hazing ceremonies in academic bodies and social clubs, where the origin is imitating educational (parental and school) discipline in substitute households and internal teaching.
In a 1999 study, a survey of 3,293 collegiate athletes, coaches, athletic directors and deans found a variety of approaches to prevent hazing, including strong disciplinary and corrective measures for known cases, implementation of athletic, behavioural and academic standards guiding recruitment; provisions for alternative bonding and recognition events for teams to prevent hazing; and law enforcement involvement in monitoring, investigating, and prosecuting hazing incidents.
Hoover's research suggested half of all college athletes are involved in alcohol-related hazing incidents, while one in five are involved in potentially illegal hazing incidents. Only another one in five was involved in what Hoover described as positive initiation events, such as taking team trips or running obstacle courses.
"Athletes most at risk for any kind of hazing for college sports were men; non-Greek members; and either swimmers, divers, soccer players, or lacrosse players. The campuses where hazing was most likely to occur were primarily in eastern or southern states with no anti-hazing laws. The campuses were rural, residential, and had Greek systems," Hoover wrote. Hoover uses the term "Greek" to refer to U.S.-style fraternities and sororities. - Dr. Nadine C. Hoover, Alfred University, 1999
Non-fraternity members were most at risk of hazing, Hoover reported. Football players are most at risk of potentially dangerous or illegal hazing, the study found.
In the May issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Michelle Finkel, MD, reported that hazing injuries are often not recognized for their true cause in emergency medical centers. The doctor said hazing victims sometimes hide the real cause of injuries out of shame or to protect those who caused the harm. In protecting their abusers, hazing victims can be compared with victims of domestic violence, Finkel wrote.
Finkel cites hazing incidents including "beating or kicking to the point of traumatic injury or death, burning or branding, excessive calisthenics, being forced to eat unpleasant substances, and psychological or sexual abuse of both males and females". Reported coerced sexual activity is sometimes considered "horseplay" rather than rape, she wrote. Finkel quoted from Hank Nuwer's book Wrongs of Passage which counted 56 hazing deaths between 1970 and 1999. 
There is anti-hazing legislation in several countries, e.g. in France (the French term is bizutage) imposing a punishment up to six months in prison or 7,500 Euro.
Even in the modern western military, which combines discipline with welfare priorities, initiation practices can cause controversy. Although not a part of the training programme of the British Royal Marines (naval elite infantery), there is a tradition (in many military - especially elite - corps) of subjecting the newly trained ranks to a hell night-type "joining run", a macho preparation of men in the prime of their lives for the ordeals of warfare, going beyond what most civilians (and even many service personnel) would find acceptable; it usually combines humiliation (such as nudity) with physical endurance.
In November 2005, there was an internationally publicised incident when a video of an extreme case of such a joining run, made secretly in May 2005, was released to the printed and broadcasting media. It showed newly trained marines, one group naked with others watching, fighting each other with mats wrapped around their arms, and one being kicked in the face after refusing to remove the padding and fight barefisted. "When one falls, a man in a fancy dress surgeon's outfit - allegedly an NCO - kicks him in the face, leaving him unconscious", according to the Telegraph. The victim, according to the BBC, said "It's just marine humour". The marine who leaked the video said "The guy laid out was inches from being dead". Under further investigation, the marines had just returned from a six month tour of Iraq, and were in their 'cooling down' period, in which they spend two weeks at a naval base before they are allowed back into society. The man who suffered the kick to the head did not press charges.
Before the Great Depression, US hazing achieved an art form status amongst benevolent fraternities such as the Moose International (Mooses) and the Freemasons. The DeMoulin Catalog is a catalog of many hazing implements used, most famously the 'electric carpet'. In many cases nowadays, the hardest abuse is usually only enacted for a photograph (sometimes even posted on the Internet) or video.
Reported hazing activities can involve all kinds of ridicule and humiliation within the group or in public - many of which could easily be considered abusive if a candidate were not a consenting adult - while others are quite innocent, akin to pranks. Examples of hazing, often performed in combination, include:
- Spanking. This is done mainly in the form of paddling among fraternities, sororities and similar (e.g. athletic) clubs, sometimes over a lap, a knee, furniture or a pillow (pile), but mostly with the victim 'assuming the position,' i.e. simply bending over forward. A variation of this (also as punishment) is trading licks.
- This practice is also used in the military (where a new round of hazing can follow a promotion, etc.). Alternative modes (including bare-buttock paddling, strapping and switching, as well as mock forms of antiquated forms of physical punishments such as stocks, walking the plank and running the gauntlet) have been reported in the US and other countries, even though all hazing is officially illegal in many.
- Being hosed by sprinkler, buckets or hoses; covered with dirt or with (sometimes rotten) food such as eggs, tomatoes and flour (also as a food fight etc.), even urinated upon. Olive- or baby oil may be used to 'show off' the bare skin, for wrestling or just slipperiness, e.g. to complicate pole climbing. Cleaning may be limited to a dive into water, hosing down or even paddling the worst off.
- Tedious cleaning. Examples include swabbing the decks, cleaning the heads/toilets (e.g. with a toothbrush).
- Servitude, such as waiting on others (as at frat parties) or various other forms of housework, often with pointless tests of obedience.
- Being made to eat or drink too much. Pledges are sometimes force-fed raw eggs, peppers, hot sauce, laxatives, various liquids or even alcohol (mainly beer). Some hazing even includes eating or drinking vile things such as bugs, rotting food, even vomit or fresh urine.
- Consuming food and/or drinks from an absurd container (Frisbee, dog bowl, glasses tied to a ski for a collective gulping...) or through a straw, food fights, finding something in a messy dish without hands.
- Clothing. An imposed piece of clothing, outfit, item or something else worn by the victim in a way that would bring negative attention to the wearer. Examples include:
- Uniform (Toga in Greek societies)
- A leash and/or collar
- Infantile and other humiliating dress and attire (e.g. diapers, underwear (sometimes of the opposite sex; sometimes wet to make it see-through) or a condom on the head; cross-dress or fake breasts; wearing just a box or a barrel; bunny costume; a phallus or dildo, even in explicitly homo-erotic poses.
- Complete or partial nudity (with or without cupping of the genitals). In the case of partial nudity, victims are sometimes allowed just an apron, jockstrap, loincloth or improvised version, thong, towel, (under)pants torn or altered to expose the wearer's genitals, a strategically placed sock or tie, a tool belt, cardboard box, wrapping paper, foil or duct tape. Sometimes the rule is 'anything but clothes', or victims are made to hold their crotches. A German variation is the 'clothesline', i.e. contributing garments (usually remaining decent, e.g. in swim suit) to form a long line.
- In Sweden, Gymnasium (high school, 16 to 19 years old) and university use the clothes line. Girls (nowadays) strip to their thong, but may keep their bra on if they wish; boys are always expected to finish up naked.
- Holding lowered trousers, shorts and/or underpants or underwear up 'revealingly'.
- Forced mooning, sometimes accompanied by smacking by a senior or mutually.
- Wedgies or things put in the shorts
- sometimes specifically with an audience, either internal or in a public place (such as college sports venues, ordered to be high profile supporters), sometimes specifically of the other sex (often associating a fraternity with a sorority). This often combined with other tasks or parading, performing (dancing, singing, reciting obscenities, skit ...) or just being exposed.
- Markings. Victims are made to wear visible symbols, drawings or text (obscenities, instructions for abuse) on (under)clothing or on bare skin. They are painted on, tattooed on, written on or even shaved in (on head, legs, even pubic hair), sometimes collectively forming a message (one letter, syllable or word on each pledge), receive tar (or glue) and feathers or even branding.
- Being tied together, e.g. by the underwear, thus complicating/rendering ridiculous any task, e.g. eating together while all participants hands or food containers are tied to a long stick.
- Quizzes. Pledges might be required to study material relating to their school, fraternity or club history, rules and traditions and then tested on it. Such “exam” may however also be given unannounced or even on 'general knowledge'. As the punishments for wrong answers can constitute the "real fun", trick or nearly unsolvable questions are likely.
- Hierarchy. Slave-like veneration of the seniors and thus verbal or physical submission to them, is common. Abject 'etiquette' required of pledges or subordinates may include prostration, kneeling, literal groveling, kissing/licking/washing (sometimes dirty) feet, footwear or the crotch.
- Degrading positions and tasks. Some pledges are locked up in a cage or barrel, commanded to move on all fours or crawl on their bellies, eat or fetch "doggy style", kiss or urinate in public, having bodyparts and/or (under)clothing shoved into an orifice of their body (e.g. a burning candle in the rectum).
- Physical feats. Performing calisthenics and other physical tests, such as push-ups (sometimes as the hazer keeps his/her foot on the pledges’ back), jumping jacks (under near impossible conditions), sit-ups, mud wrestling, forming a human pyramid or dog piling, climbing a greased pole, skinny diving, leap-frog, human wheel-barrow etc., often with some twist
- Exposure to the elements. Examples include: Running, swimming or diving (almost) bare in cold water or snow. Holding ice water and/or having snow poured over a person or even sitting on ice in an open fridge holding more frozen objects.
- Orientation tests. Pledges are abandoned, often quite far or fettered without transport, in the dark and/or in a public place.
- Fundraising. Collecting money for the club or some charity, either by begging, selling a product or performing services (such as washing cars).
- Treasure hunt or scavenger hunt (perhaps requiring theft)
- Dares. Examples are jumping from some height (bungee or in water), stealing from police or rival teams and obedience.
- Blood pinning among military aviators (and many other elite groups) to celebrate becoming new pilots by piercing their chests with the sharp pins of aviator wings.
- Burning desire and great ball of fire tests involve fireworks or burning objects (especially in mesh-form) fixed in the buttocks or on the testicles, remaining in position or running a distance.
- The elephant walk is a moving line of male pledges, often naked or at least pant-less, that imitates an elephant herd (holding each other by the tail in nature). Each pledge grabs the one in front of him by the privates (tail is also a euphemism for the penis, and for the thus exposed butt, the favorite target in paddling traditions.
- On his first crossing the equator in military and commercial navigation, each 'pollywog' (sailor; sometimes even passengers) is subjected to a series of endurances usually including running and/or crawling a gauntlet of abuse (soiling, paddling, etc.) and various scenes supposedly situated at King Neptune's court.
- A pledge auction is a variation on the slave auction, where people bid on the paraded (often exposed) pledges. It is held either as an open fund raiser where the general public (or just an invited sorority) can bid, or internally to decide which brother can impose his fantasies on which pledge.
- Treeing is binding up with ropes, chains, handcuffs or other means, to a tree or pole, or in some variations on a cross (mock crucifixion), to be helplessly abused and/or bound.
- The term tunnel seems to have various meanings in different traditions, such as a spanking tunnel or belt-line. It may be appealing as a symbolic rite of passage: one goes in as a rookie and emerges as something of a brother or teammate,
- As in this version in rugby: the rookie crawls under 10 players who strip him down, push a carrot in his anus and tie a pink ribbon around his erect penis, which he must keep on for two weeks (which will be checked at each training session).
- Academic salute is (at least in Liberia) jumping up while holding one's crotch; may be followed by the order to enact coitus, hastily divesting, even spilling seed in a hole.
Of course in certain circles there are also more specific practices, using ingredients particularly pertinent to their activities. For example, in various trades hazing for apprentices when finishing their apprenticeship: in printing, it consisted of applying to the apprentice's privates bronze blue, a colour made from mixing black printers ink and dark blue printers ink which takes a long time to wash off; similarly, mechanics get them smeared with old dirty grease.
In the US hazing has resulted in several deaths and serious injuries. Matthew Carrington was killed at Chico State on February 2, 2005. As a direct result a number of colleges and parents, as well as sorority and fraternity members are taking steps to bring an end to criminal hazing practices. Hazing is considered a felony in several US states, and anti hazing legislation has been proposed in other states. SB 1454, or Matt’s Law, was developed in Carrington’s memory, and is one bill up for legislation to eliminate hazing in California.
References in popular culture
Movies where hazing plays an important art in the plot and/or constitutes a forceful scene include Animal House (1978), Dazed and Confused (1993; High school), A Few Good Men (1992; USMC), The Lords of Discipline (1983; USArmy), The Skulls (2000; Ivy League), Old School (2003).
- World Corporal Punishment Research Corporal punishment as initiation
- Hazing could become felony in US if signed to law