News stories about young people who have died as the result of hazing incidents in college – most of them young men – have seemingly become more common in recent years. Some have been here in Virginia. Many states, including ours, have enacted hazing laws to try to prevent these senseless deaths.
Many people still think that those involved in a hazing event can only face criminal charges if someone is injured or killed – or maybe for providing alcohol to a minor. These hazing laws make participation in hazing, whether in a fraternity, on a sports team or in a club – a crime in itself.
What does Virginia law say?
Under Virginia law, hazing “recklessly or intentionally endanger[ing] the health or safety of a student or students or to inflict bodily injury…in connection with or for the purpose of initiation, admission into or affiliation with or as a condition for continued membership in a club, organization, association, fraternity, sorority, or student body regardless of whether [they]…participated voluntarily in the relevant activity.” It’s a Class 1 misdemeanor.
In addition to facing criminal charges, those involved can also face civil lawsuits by victims and surviving loved ones. The schools and organizations (like fraternities) can and often do face lawsuits and other sanctions.
What if your child is facing charges related to hazing?
Whenever a group of young people is involved, it can be easy for peer pressure, poor judgment and alcohol and/or drugs to lead some to do things they wouldn’t do on their own. Often, after a hazing incident, it can be difficult for law enforcement and prosecutors to determine who actually caused harm and who was simply in the crowd. However, the greater presence of phones and video surveillance is making that easier to determine.
If your child is facing charges related to a hazing incident, it can be tempting to let them “learn their lesson” by facing the justice system on their own. However, a conviction can follow them for the rest of their lives, and even derail their college education. They need their own legal representation (separate from anyone else who’s facing charges) to protect their rights and present their case.