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Rethinking Hazing Laws After a Horrifying Incident in Ellis County

Ellis County volunteer firefighters were charged with sexual assault this week in connection to a hazing incident.

From Texas Standard:

When a hazing incident makes the news, we usually think of college campuses – a fraternity rush gone wrong, or an initiation ritual for a sport team. But not always. That was the case this week in Texas.

Five members of the Ellis County Volunteer Fire Department have been charged with aggravated sexual assault. The incident allegedly occurred back in January as part of a hazing ritual for new recruits.

This story includes some explicit details about a disturbing incident.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, the men held a male recruit down and sexually assaulted him with a broomstick, and then a sausage. Another person, who has also been arrested, filmed the incident. The video captured the cheers and laughter of fellow firefighters.

"This is all about loyalty and trust – but it's more than that," says Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor at Franklin College and member of "Being a fireman is a high-status job … there's status and power there, and this was definitely a power play."

"The problem with this kind of hazing," Nuwer says, "is that, with the victim, he becomes a pariah if he says something. And it isn’t about bonding in this case – it's really a form of terrible bullying, And it must have been really shaming to have a woman in the room photographing while this ordeal was taking place."

Nuwer says hazing laws need to be reconsidered nationwide.

"This same thing happened in a different context in South Carolina, and the law did not apply to high school students. In a case near Hilton Head, there was a student who was raped, sodomized, and the sheriff would not press charges because the law did not cover it."

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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