We’ve all heard horror stories about hazing. If you were in a fraternity, sorority, or some other type of exclusive organization, you might have even experienced hazing yourself. Since a lot of “hazing” is secret, the term broadly applies to all kinds of things. From silly tasks like going on an all-night scavenger hunt to rituals that involve binge drinking and sexual humiliation.
With the reported deaths and injuries (both physical and psychological) that sometimes come with “hazing,” the line between “silly fun” and “criminal activity” can be somewhat blurry. In Florida, this blurred line unfortunately seems to apply sexual battery that occurs as a part of hazing – but it shouldn’t.
Florida Calling Sexual Assault “Hazing” Minimizes the Pain It Causes
In March 2016, five baseball players from Cooper City High School engaged in alleged “hazing” that included forcibly pulling a player’s underwear down, and sticking fingers and a Gatorade bottle in the boy’s butt.
When a player complained to their coach about the incident, he allegedly told the player, “It’s just baseball, keep it to yourself.” By November 2016, the coach was no longer at Cooper City High School. The school looked into the incident, but reporters continued to call the incident “hazing,” despite law enforcement officers’ call for charges of simple battery, false imprisonment, and sexual battery against the other team members.
Sexual battery, according to Florida law, is “oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another or the anal or vaginal penetration of another by any other object.” It is not just baseball.
Sadly, this is just one example of a disturbing trend in how sex crimes are handled (or more often, dismissed) in our state and nation. There are many stories across the country of students who have been sexually harassed or attacked by teammates or other fraternity or sorority members, but no action was taken. Instead, the incident was simply seen as another “silly” hazing ritual.
A sweeping Title IX investigation has begun to determine the severity of this issue in colleges, but there is still work to be done at the elementary and secondary levels.
A recent Associated Press investigation highlighted how this attitude severely underestimates the amount of sex crimes that take place in secondary schooling. The investigation looked at records from 2011 to 2015, and in over a dozen states, had to look to police reports to find any data on sex crimes in schools because many secondary and elementary schools are not required by law to report these incidents.
Between 2011 and 2015, the AP found over 17,000 cases of sexual assault. Of those 17,000, 165 were reported in Florida.
Again, these numbers are probably a low estimate. In Florida, a school doesn’t have to report the exact number of cases when it is less than 10, so the actual number of assaults could be much higher than what the AP is predicting.
Unfortunately, the way schools, employers, and other institutions handle sexual assault does not improve much past secondary school.
Rape is widely underreported in the United States. When rape cases do make headlines, it is because of stories that involve shockingly short sentences or comments from a judge to a victim. Bottom line? Our country has a problem not just with sexual assaults and other sex crimes, but in how we deal with them.
Despite What You Hear in the Media, Don’t Assume It Will Be Easy to Beat Your Charges
If accusations are made against you, do not listen to reports of “hazing” or “misconduct” and imagine you can do nothing and still avoid consequences. Know what accusations or charges have been made against you, and inform yourself in regards to the penalties you could suffer.
Someone convicted for sexual assault or battery can end up behind bars for years. Sexual battery is a felony of the second degree in Florida, which put an offender behind bars for up to 15 years. Charges are bumped up to a felony in the first degree if violence is used or the crime is committed against a minor.
Just as importantly, no matter what prison sentence is given to someone who has been convicted of a sex crime, they will face the longer and arguably just as impactful penalty of having to register as a sex offender in the state of Florida.
Sex crime charges in Florida should be taken very seriously, and you will need a Florida criminal defense lawyer by your side if you want to have the best hope of prevent a conviction and getting the best possible outcome.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.