Hazing: When is it considered a crime?

On Behalf of | Nov 10, 2023 | College Crime, Criminal Defense

One of the highlights of college life is the many clubs, sports teams and social organizations a student can join. However, several of these organizations have a dark side: as a rite of initiation, senior members would subject new recruits to hazing.

Hazing methods are as varied as the organizations that practice them. It could take the form of humiliating pranks or asking the new member to function as a personal attendant for a senior member for a period of time. But some methods are more violent and even fatal.

Pennsylvania has a law against violent hazing, and anyone convicted could potentially face criminal penalties.

Hazing as a criminal offense

Per Pennsylvania law, a person commits the offense of hazing if they intentionally coerce a student to do any of the following to confirm, continue or advance the student’s membership:

  • Violate any federal or state law
  • Consume a food, drink, liquid or drug that subjects the student to a risk of emotional or physical harm
  • Endure brutality of a physical nature (i.e., whipping, exposure to the elements, extreme calisthenics, etc.)
  • Endure brutality of a mental nature (i.e., sleep deprivation, exclusion from social contact, etc.)
  • Endure brutality of a sexual nature
  • Any other activity that could lead to a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury

Hazing is a summary offense according to the law, but the offense can become a misdemeanor of the third degree if the activity leads to bodily injury.

Penalties for hazing

For a summary offense, a convicted person faces up to 90 days in jail and $300 in fines. However, if the hazing offense becomes a misdemeanor of the third degree, the penalties are up to a year in prison and $2,500 in fines.

Having initiation rites for an organization can help build a sense of solidarity, but taking a violent approach through hazing can lead to injuries and death. Whether they were present or not during a vicious hazing session, students can also face charges for violating the law, especially if they’re the leaders who authorized the act.

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