Fraternity brothers at Gamma Phi Gamma at Wilmington College in Ohio could face assault charges after literally going “balls out” while hazing pledges earlier this semester. Even if you are among the minority of people who sees value in hazing, I think we can all agree that a freshman should not lose a testicle from hazing-related abuse, yet that is exactly what happened in this case. Police allege that fraternity bullies tied towels into knots and used them as clubs to pummel naked, blindfolded pledges. A 19 year old pledge was hit so hard in the scrotum, that one of his testicles was damaged beyond repair, requiring it to be removed in an emergency surgery. Wanting something so bad you would “give up a left nut,” should never be more than a vulgar metaphor!
Although the fraternity surely had no intention of causing permanent damage, they may be subject to assault and conspiracy to commit assault charges. Most states criminalize assault not only for intentional behavior, but also for reckless behavior, which results in injury. Clearly, whipping a naked, blindfolded person in the genitals hard enough to rupture a testicle would constitute reckless behavior. If this case occurred in Pennsylvania, I would expect the participants to be charged with aggravated assault and criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, both of which are first degree felonies. In addition to criminal charges, the frat bullies and the fraternity itself also face possible civil liability.
Other aspects of the hazing ritual are nothing short of cruel and barbaric, leading one to question why exactly anyone would want to join such an organization. The blindfolded pledges were forced to eat bananas soaked in vinegar, which they were told was feces. Also, while naked, they had a substance like Icy Hot, applied to their nipples, scrotum and buttocks.
My understanding is that fraternity and sorority hazing rituals are not nearly as bad as they used to be, but this case shows that this strange culture persists into the 21st Century. Hopefully, it will soon die off completely.
Matt McClenahen is a criminal defense attorney in State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. Many of his clients are members of Penn State fraternities and sororities. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Assault-Defense.shtml