The news this week included a report on an incident that allegedly took place at New York’s prestigious Bronx High School of Science. It indicates that three teenaged students have been arrested and charged with a number of offenses, including forcible touching, harassment, assault and hazing.
The offenses, according to police, took place between December and February, and involved members of the school’s track team. The reports contain virtually no details of the alleged incident, although the allegations were apparently deemed serious enough for the arrests, as well as for the suspension of all track events until further notice. The students who were charged have denied any wrongdoing. While the charges will be dealt with in due time, the article provides us with an opportunity to review the state’s hazing law.
Hazing has become a hot topic of discussion, and appears to be a lot more common that one might expect. Just last year, the New York Times reported rampant instances of hazing at SUNY Binghamton related to fraternity initiations. In addition, the death of a student at Cornell University was linked to a fraternity ritual consisting of forced consumption of alcohol in 2011; three students were charged with hazing in that case, although they have all since been acquitted.
So just what is hazing? Under section 120.17 of the Penal Law, hazing in the second degree is defined as
- intentional or reckless conduct
- that creates a substantial risk of physical injury
- in connection with a person’s initiation into or affiliation with any organization.
It is a classified as a violation. First degree hazing, a class A misdemeanor, includes the same conduct, where there is a resulting injury.
We obviously can’t comment on the pending charges against the Bronx high school students. We can infer from the charges, however, that the allegations include more than playful bullying. Among the crimes alleged here is forcible touching, which, while it is also a misdemeanor, is a sexual offense. And because it involves an alleged victim under the age of eighteen, a conviction would require the defendants to register as sex offenders.
We expect to hear more in the near future about this case in particular, and about hazing in general.
George Vomvolakis Law Offices
275 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016