Hazing underrecognized as cause of serious injury, says MGH physician

Young people and others who are injured in hazing incidents should be regarded as victims of crimes in their treatment by health care professionals, says an emergency physician at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). In a report in the May issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Michelle Finkel, MD, also notes that hazing victims may disguise the true cause of their injuries out of shame or a misguided desire to protect those who inflicted the harm. In this, they can be compared with victims of domestic violence.

"My suspicion is that hazing is very underreported as a cause of injuries, just as domestic violence was," she says. "If health care providers don't consider whether hazing may be a possible factor, they aren't going to ask the questions required to find out about it."

The term hazing refers to unpleasant initiation practices of organizations such as fraternities and sororities, athletic teams, the military and gangs. Hazing activities can range from the merely embarrassing to the dangerous and deadly. While hazing practices have been recorded since ancient times, Finkel notes that hazing trends come and go, often in response to well-publicized hazing injuries and deaths.

Recent decades have seen an increase in reported hazing incidents, with at least 56 associated deaths reported from 1970 to 1999. In a 1999 study of NCAA athletes conducted by researchers from Alfred University, 80 percent of athletes reported "questionable or unacceptable activities as part of their initiation onto a collegiate athletics team," and 20 percent reported being beaten, kidnapped or abandoned.

Among the types of hazing injuries Finkel mentions are beating or kicking to the point of traumatic injury or death, burning or branding, excessive calesthenics, being forced to eat unpleasant substances, and psychological or sexual abuse of both males and females. She notes that reported forms of coerced sexual activity "that can

Contact: Nicole Gustin
Massachusetts General Hospital

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