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It Isn't Hazing: Calling Out Sexual Assault in Youth Sports

Recently, the Associated Press ran a series on the phenomenon of "hazing" in youth sports that has largely been dismissed by coaches, administrators and officials as “inappropriate physical conduct” or even horseplay. Yet as the series points out, the “hazing” at issue wasn’t just a swat on the arm or roughhousing. In many instances, these so-called cases of “hazing” were full-on sexual assaults, with teammates anally raping fellow players.

Let us be clear: these situations are not hazing. They are sexual assault. They may take place on a team or be part of some sick tradition, but these actions are a gross violation of another person’s bodily autonomy. They are a crime.

Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that the adults in charge of these teams often downplay the seriousness of these crimes, or help to cover them up. Coaches may not report the assault to the authorities, they may get rid of evidence of the crime, or treat it as an internal team disciplinary issue.

There are many complex issues surrounding the topic of male on male sexual assault, particularly when it relates to the often hyper masculine world of sports. Athletes who have been assaulted may be afraid of speaking up for fear of being punished or losing their spot on the team — or even suffering further abuse from their teammates. After all, if the adults who were supposed to protect them failed to do so, they would not likely feel comfortable reporting their abuse and continuing to play for the same coach. Homophobia plays another significant role in the decision to not report abuse. Many locker rooms are dominated by homophobia, and players who have been assaulted may fear that they will be further ostracized by reporting their abuse — regardless of their sexual orientation.

This type of abuse is often justified by dismissing it as “boys will be boys” or saying that it is a rite of passage. It is 2017, and we know better. This isn’t hazing; it is sexual assault. We can be a part of the solution by speaking out against this type of abuse, and calling it what it is: rape. No child should fear being sexually assaulted just by joining a sports team — and no adult should ever be part of a system that excuses that type of behavior. Ever.

At Blackburn Center, we are committed to providing services to all victims of violence and crime, and to transforming our society so that one day, this violence will end. We encourage you to join us in our mission by speaking up against this type of sexual assault, and all gender-based violence. If you would like to get involved in our work, you can learn more here. If you or someone you love has been impacted by violence, learn more about how we can help here.

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