Civil Rights & Constitutional Law
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December 15, 2019
• Practice Areas • Practices • Hazing
Ohio Rev. Code § 2903.31 defines hazing as “doing any act or coercing another, including the victim, to do any act of initiation into any student or other organization that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to any person.”
In other words, hazing occurs when high-status members of a group take advantage of new members’ low status by pressuring the new members to engage in humiliating and oftentimes violent acts. These acts can range from subtle—such as sleep deprivation, communication restrictions, and physical exercise—to violent, such as kidnapping, nudity, and forced consumption of alcohol. Those engaged in hazing often try to justify it as an opportunity for new members to show their commitment and worth to the group. The new members want to feel accepted by high-status members, so they engage in these types of activities against their will. Hazing often leads to serious psychological and physical harm—and it has even led to death in some cases.
Hazing participants can be held both criminally and civilly liable for their involvement.
Ohio Revised Code § 2903.31 provides that “no person shall recklessly participate in the hazing of another,” and “no administrator, employee, or faculty member of any primary, secondary, or post-secondary school or of any other educational institution, public or private, shall recklessly permit the hazing of any person.” Any person who “violates this section is guilty of hazing, a misdemeanor of the fourth degree.”
Ohio Revised Code § 2307.44 broadly provides that both individuals responsible for hazing and the organizations (including schools) where they are can potentially be held civilly liable for damage caused:
Any person who is subjected to hazing, as defined in division (A) of section 2903.31 of the Revised Code, may commence a civil action for injury or damages, including mental and physical pain and suffering, that result from the hazing. The action may be brought against any participants in the hazing, any organization whose local or national directors, trustees, or officers authorized, requested, commanded, or tolerated the hazing, and any local or national director, trustee, or officer of the organization who authorized, requested, commanded, or tolerated the hazing. If the hazing involves students in a primary, secondary, or post-secondary school, university, college, or any other educational institution, an action may also be brought against any administrator, employee, or faculty member of the school, university, college, or other educational institution who knew or reasonably should have known of the hazing and who did not make reasonable attempts to prevent it and against the school, university, college, or other educational institution. If an administrator, employee, or faculty member is found liable in a civil action for hazing, then notwithstanding Chapter 2743. of the Revised Code, the school, university, college, or other educational institution that employed the administrator, employee, or faculty member may also be held liable.
The negligence or consent of the plaintiff or any assumption of the risk by the plaintiff is not a defense to an action brought pursuant to this section. In an action against a school, university, college, or other educational institution, it is an affirmative defense that the school, university, college, or other institution was actively enforcing a policy against hazing at the time the cause of action arose.
This statute offers robust protection and the ability to obtain justice.
Hazing is especially common on college campuses among varsity athletic teams, fraternities and sororities, academic organizations, and several other groups that have initiation processes. Hazing is more widespread than many think; over half of college students who participate in sports or other organizations have experienced hazing. Hazing also occurs in middle schools and high schools and is commonplace in both male and female organizations.
Victims of hazing may wish to seek physical and psychological treatment. Many universities also have victim-advocacy programs for hazing victims.
We can help victims of hazing and hold perpetrators accountable for serious harm. You can reach The Chandra Law Firm LLC, which serves clients throughout Ohio and the nation, by calling 216-578-1700 or by filling out our online contact form.