Sometimes the news media irritate the hell out of me with their lack of professionalism and how little attention to detail they pay to anything. They ignore stories of great import, misidentify the real issues, and sensationalize other stories to make them more appealing to the readers. They develop a collective interpretation of something and hold onto that interpretation without understanding the impact they have. A journalist’s interpretation of a story can have implications beyond their initial article and can be the basis for everyone’s understanding of the story for days or even years to come. It can be incredibly difficult to go back and correct something once it is out there. It is irresponsible not to do homework or to have a full understanding of an issue before deciding on an angle or deciding which words to use. Words are critically important and every journalist should understand that.
Likewise the slew of anonymous and oftentimes ignorant commenters on news stories and Internet sites worldwide can be equally irritating. They are given a forum to express their point-of-view and often do so without the least understanding of the subject at hand. They simply spew nonsensical garbage with no basis in reality.
This is not to say that all journalists and all Internet commenters do this, but it is shocking how prevalent it is. The recent reporting (and subsequent commentary) on the Sayreville High School football team case is what is prompting my irritation at this moment, but I’ve seen it with the Michael Brown case and others as well.
With that in mind let me set the record straight on some issues surrounding the Sayreville case.
- What happened to the four freshmen on that football team was not hazing. Hazing is teasing, humiliation, harassment, little tricks that embarrass an individual, and things along those lines. It can be something like making the initiate do chores or carry a senior’s books for him. Those freshmen boys in Sayreville suffered sexual abuse–not hazing–and in at least one case it was rape. Holding a student down, stripping him, and inserting a finger into his rectum is rape. It is sexual assault. Taking that finger and then putting it into the boy’s mouth is not hazing. It is sadism, perhaps, but not hazing.
- Yes, it is possible for a group of as many as seven boys to work together to sexually assault someone. The idea that one ringleader could not convince half a dozen other boys to join in on what happened is wishful thinking at best. The term “gang rape” was not invented as a fantasy term. It unfortunately describes very real actions. Groups of people can and do get together and sexually assault or physically assault others. It is not a rare occurrence.
- The perpetrators of this abuse are not necessarily gay because they sexually assaulted someone of the same sex. One or more of them may be coincidentally gay, but that is irrelevant. Rape and sexual assault are separate from gender and orientation. They are about power and control.
- The case is not an isolated incident. Reports are that it took place over the course of about ten days and there were at least four known victims. On Saturday, October 11, the New York Daily News reported that several days after the story broke a sophomore admitted to his mother that he had been molested as a freshman football player, though she said he would not give the names of the perpetrator or perpetrators. This kind of abuse does not occur in a vacuum. It is very likely that it has been going on for years and passed on from class to class.
- The likelihood of four different kids making up the same story because they didn’t like the kids who were arrested or were mad at them for something is highly improbable. According to a 1989 article by M. Everson and B. Boat in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “It is estimated that only 4 to 8% of child sexual abuse reports are fabricated. Most of the fabricated reports are made by adults involved in custody disputes or by adolescents.” While it is possible that the Sayreville stories are made up the statistical probability is very limited, particularly given the number of victims.
- While things like the Sayreville case may not happen in every school in the country, or even in most, it is possible and maybe even likely that similar cases could be revealed. When I was in high school I heard a story about a neighboring town: The senior class, both boys and girls, took the freshmen boys somewhere out in the country and made them strip and then made them all perform oral sex upon each other while the seniors watched and laughed. It was a small town and there were probably no more than a dozen or so freshmen boys and perhaps it wasn’t all of them and maybe it wasn’t even all of the senior class, either. But if it was even a small number of them and the story was mostly true it is horrifying to think about that happening to those kids..
Perhaps with the reporting on the Sayreville case some kid in the middle of the country will read about what happened and understand for the first time in his life that what has been happening to him not only is something that hurts or makes him feel bad emotionally but that it is illegal and the perpetrators can be stopped and punished. If this story awakens even a few kids to a new understanding then the reporting on it will have been worth it, despite the lack of understanding by some of the writers and editors.
I agree with all you say about journalism today. But I think there is also a systemic issue that occurs whenever athletes are involved. There is the too easy axiom of ‘boys will be boys’ that is hauled out as justification to let it drop. And yet I believe all the forms of hazing you described should be rooted out as well. When will we ever learn that dishing out humiliation can be just as destructive as physical torment and abuse, including rape. Both involve powerlessness and objectification and both should be decried.