Becoming part of any group in college is a top priority for many students, whether it is a sports team, fraternity or academic group. And in many cases, participants go through some type of initiation process. Oftentimes, these activities seem like harmless fun that reinforce a bond between new members and veterans. Other times, initiation becomes hazing, and that is prohibited in Virginia.

Students should know that state laws strictly prohibit activities that cause injury or put a person’s safety or health in danger. However, this description can seem vague, and in the context of initiation, students may not always realize that they could be in violation of the law.

For instance, you might think that there is nothing wrong with things like coming up with offensive nicknames for sorority pledges, kidnapping them in the middle of the night or holding them to a demerit system. After all, we see these activities – and worse – in TV shows and movies, and they may be activities that have been completed for generations

However, these are all different types of hazing, as noted by the University of Virginia.

Unfortunately, even if you think something is harmless fun, and even if the initiate is a willing participant, you could wind up in serious trouble if you participate in hazing. This is a very harsh lesson to learn, particularly if you were just doing what you were told or engaging in activities that you believed to be acceptable.

Hazing is not necessarily the result of someone’s desire to inflict serious harm; it can happen when things get out of control, or when drugs or alcohol impairs people’s judgments. In either case, harsh criminal penalties may simply not be appropriate, as they could do little more than destroy a young person’s future for a youthful mistake.

If you are a student or parent of a student facing hazing charges, it is critical that you take the situation seriously. Not only could you face civil penalties if someone suffers physical or emotional damages, you could also be convicted of a misdemeanor. To defend against hazing charges, it would be wise to consult an attorney who understands the challenges and stakes associated with college student crimes.