When death occurs, it is manslaughter
Godofredo U. Stuart
It is a human condition -- the need to belong to a family, group, tribe, club, organization, or community. Some seek the allure and exclusivity of some brotherhoods or sisterhoods -- fraternities and sororities, street gangs, military units, secret societies -- for that special sense of belonging, kinship, and bonding, and for the promise that membership in a special community of men or women will provide a lifelong cachet, to reap imagined privileges, reassurances, and advantages later on in life. In return, one accepts the ethos of a brotherhood, subservience to a set of ideals, and commitment to a code of silence.
For that fraternity, men and women are willing to suffer through the hazing rituals of physical and psychological abuse, sometimes a combination of extreme and heavy doses of both -- being smeared with feces or urinated on, drinking concoctions of bodily discharges, suffering torrents of degrading insults, demeaning sexual acts and nudity, or various acts and varying degrees of physical violence. They are meant to humble the pledges, and from that humbling, they imagine, springs bonding, love, and trust.
The consequences of psychological abuse are often hidden. But sometimes, after the hazing, beneath the seeming normalcy, there is a lifetime of psychological scars or wounds that never heal.
For physical abuse, the marks are often visible, usually inflicted by the most common form of abuse in the tradition of hazing -- paddling. it's much worse than it sounds, and it's much more than a paddle. It has become the generic word for any instrument that inflicts corporeal punishment: paddle boards, canes, baseball bats. The damage is often inflicted with brutality, almost always, causing the body to "ube" -- the vernacular for the early violet of bloody ecchymotic bruising. Often, the extent of subcutaneous bleeding, the hematomas and ecchymoses -- the ube -- is the arithmetic equivalence of the degree of brutality. The ability to endure the brutality is considered a measure of mettle, resolve, and worthiness.
Often, the violence is meted out with measures of restraint. But one too many times it is dispensed with savage and unrestrained brutality, with pledges beaten to a pulp. And sometimes, in the name of fraternity, death occurs.
The deaths are not accidents
The deaths are no accidents. They are just deaths waiting to happen. Deaths are the result of cumulative trauma. There is no way to determine the sustainable amount of physical violence beyond which a line is crossed. It is even possible the cause of death may have been inflicted early on in the ritual of hazing, taking days for the process of its pathology to progress to death.
What is surprising is that there aren't more of these tragic events. How many more deaths were a whack of paddle or dose of torture away? The human body's fragile armor is a mere composite of delicate tissues of skin, subcutaneous fat, muscle and nerves, prone to tears and bleeding, surviving through innate reflexes -- withdrawal, shielding, parrying, cringing, flinching, flight and avoidance. This fragility, long ago recognized by science and medicine, spawned an industry that fashioned protective gear for contact sports and various professions, to protect every part of the human body with helmets, pads, goggles, guards, vests, and shields, with medical personnel ready to sideline anyone with a bleed, cut, sprain or concussion. Also, there may be unrecognized contributing conditions that critically increases this fragility: aspirin intake, bleeding and clotting disorders. And in the bloodsport of hazing, the survival instincts and reflexes are not functional. The human body becomes a stationary mass of unprotected tissues, absorbing the infliction of repeated blunt trauma, each strike contributing to the cumulative physical damage -- the subcutaneous bleeding, the widening ube, sometimes, hemorrhagic shock, coma, and the occasional death. (How many times has the ube, the post-traumatic ecchymotic swelling in the legs, been source of deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism and death?) And sadly, too often, the body succumbs before the resolve yields. And often, when death occurs, it is not sudden. The dying is slow. Life already seeping away as the strikes continue. There is not one fatal blow. The fatal blow is cumulative . . . and communal.
Whence, the brutality?
Of course, not all involved in hazing are violently inclined. Perhaps, many are nonviolent in their day-to-day lives. Yet many, not disposed to violence, in the company and peer pressure of brothers become hesitant participants, contributing small doses of violence; or sometimes even with the seemingly gentle, with the outflowing and surging of adrenaline and testosterone, a line is crossed, the ritual goes haywire, the hazing becomes an occasion of wilding and sadism.
Some would like to believe that the violence is simply a get-back from brothers still feeling the pains of last year's initiation rites, the ube long gone but the memory of it still stinging, and now keyed up to be on the giving end.
Perhaps, for a few. But for many, it's likely much more than that. Among the initiating brothers, there might be one, two, or a few possessed of violent nature, inflicting pain with great delight, amusement and laughter. Perhaps there's even a sociopath or two hiding behind the mask of academe. Perhaps, these brothers were themselves bullied upon or were victims of childhood physical abuse, now finding a subconscious mode of release and transference. In my medical practice, patients, both victims and perpetrators, have confessed to me of domestic abuse, how difficult it is, once it starts, to stop the horrible escalation of violence. Why would it be different In the rituals of initiation, in the setting of helpless pledges, with brothers, many stewed with alcohol, armed with clenched fists, paddles, sticks, pipes and canes? Who is swinging their bats in the name of brotherhood? Who is swinging from the scars of childhood abuse? Who is striking in anger, revenge, jealousy, retribution, redemption, or simply, for that feeling of macho-ness as he inflicts punishment? Dahil sa ingit, galit, bawi, o tupak? Hazing is a match that provides spark to a cauldron of human dysfunctions.
To boot, we have become a more violent society. We live in a chilling new paradigm of violence. There has been a resetting of our thresholds for evil and violence, a shift in the Jekyl and Hyde of our personalities. There is always blame to cast on movies and television satiating our swollen appetites with excessive doses of graphic violence. The past decades have brought us wilding, road rage, Columbine, gone-postal incidents, waterboarding, new ways of tortures, and massacres in far-flung corners of the world -- daily doses and daily fares in the immediacy of television that inundate the visuals of our daily lives. The images no longer shock. We have become desensitized, hopelessly inured to violence.
In hazing, this culture of violence is allowed expression, testing the limits of endurance, taking lives to the edge, a few strikes away from the threshold of dying. A blood clot in the leg. Blood loss. An errant heart beat. Sometimes, strike after strike after strike, in sheer exhaustion or when the limit is reached, the body shuts down. The death is often the result of cumulative trauma. For every death, there are many who were so close to their deaths, surviving by the skin of one's teeth. In hazing's venue of violence, the occasional death—when it occurs—is not accidental. It was a life slipping away, bleeding away, long before the final blow.
Fraternities need not be banned.
Hazing wasn't part of the Greek and medieval origins of fraternities. Hazing took roots in that period of change when the ancient rituals and classic traditions of intellectual explorations and expressions were disappearing. Now, what remains in some (most?) fraternities are the Greek letters, symbols and crests, hedonistic extracurricular pursuits, and its annual ritual of hazing.
Hazing is the fraternity's murderous thorn on its side. Many organizations, schools and universities have banned it, but to no avail. The deaths continue. In 1995, the anti-hazing law, Republic Act No. 8049, was approved by President F. Ramos. The law is impressively replete with definitions, liabilities and penalties -- reclusion perpetua, reclusion temporal, prison mayor, prison correcional. Yet, it has woefully failed to stop the beatings and deaths. And in the theater of the courts, the guilty have always managed to skillfully mitigate culpability through avenues of twisted legalese, loopholes, and appeals.
And alcohol? It is ubiquitous in our celebratory gatherings. Certainly so, in initiation rituals. It shouldn't take much to imagine how much of the violence is fueled by alcohol. And despite the fact that 82% of deaths from violent hazing involve alcohol, the law makes absolutely no reference to alcohol.
Hazing is a blood sport, a ritual of power and control wielded with violence. The street gangs, cults and the underworld may never be rid of it, but schools and universities should be saved from it. The youth should be protected from the psychological and physical violence. It is inane and insane to expect that promulgation by law can regulate, supervise, and temper the violence. Hazing in all its forms should be punished with expulsion. Deaths should be dealt with for the heinous crime that it is, by a law with teeth, unencumbered by legal loopholes and politics.
The history of hazing is littered with deaths. Despite the deaths and known risks, fraternities continue with with their conspiratorial regimens of torture. Despite having been criminalized by Republic Act 8049 more than a decade ago, the deaths continue. Despite "zero-tolerance" edicts and sound bites, when hazing season comes around, schools and universities turn a blind eye, waiting for the next death—when it becomes the occasion for the usual public outcry, condemnation and condolence.
Every hazing death clamors for justice. Hazing deaths qualify as manslaughter. At the least, involuntary manslaughter. But in the Andrei Marcos case, the judge found lack of probable cause and ample evidence! No one to be blamed!
|by Dr Godofredo U. Stuart Jr. September 2012 / Update September 2015|
2014 and 2015
List of hazing related deaths in the Philippines 1954-2015 (7: Hazing deaths in the Philippines: A Recent History [2000-2014] / Camille Diola: Philippine Star) (9: Hazing Prevention Philippines: Incomplete List of Fraternity Hazing deaths:1954-2014)
. . . how many more deaths?
| Sources and Suggested Readings
Fraternity and Sorority Life / History of Greek Life / Appalachain State University
Anatomy of a Wilding Gag / Scott Cummings / Google Books
Anti-Hazing Law--Republic Act No8049 / Chan Robles Virtual Law Library
Lawmaker seeks review of Anti-hazing law / Karen Boncocan / INQUIRER.net
Hazing Myths and Facts / Babson
Alcohol & Hazing / Cornell University
Hazing deaths in the Philippines: A Recent History / by Camille Diola / PhilSTAR
De Lima to fiscals: Explain dismissal of Marcos hazing case / Edu Punay / The Philippine Star
Incomplete List of Fraternity Hazing Deaths / Hazing Prevention Philippines