Days after a New Jersey high school’s football team cancelled its season over complaints of “serious bullying and harassment,” seven star players have been charged for the sexual assault and hazing of four teammates.
According to one victim’s parent, upperclassmen at Sayreville High School would pin a freshman to the floor, lift him up, and shove a finger into the players rectum. One victim was kicked during his attack. Four such incidents took place mid to late September.
Freshmen would also stampede to the locker room to get dressed before senior players could “push [them] around.”
Because they are minors, the names of the accused athletes have not been released, but the players are between 15 and 17 years old. “Three were charged with aggravated sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, conspiracy to commit aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal restraint, and hazing for engaging in an act of sexual penetration upon one of the juvenile victims. One of those defendants and four others were charged with various counts including aggravated assault, conspiracy, aggravated criminal sexual contact, hazing and riot by participating in the attack of some of the victims,” said Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey, according to NJ.com.
All seven players could face five years of jail time, since aggravated sexual assault is a first-degree offense, even for juveniles. And prosecutors can also attempt to try the teenagers as adults, which could result in a longer sentence and a permanent criminal record.
High school football players have come under fire for sexually violence in the past. In one high-profile case in Steubenville, Ohio, two football players raped and filmed a young girl, after which school administrators tried to cover up the event. And in Maryville, Ohio, a 14-year-old was assaulted and dumped on her front porch — in freezing temperatures — by an older football player.
But sexual violence is only one problem in a larger hazing culture among athletes and a hands-off approach to supervising them. A national survey concluded that 80 percent of all respondents experienced hazing upon joining a college team, although 60 percent would not report what happened. And coaches and athletic directors often turn a blind eye or deny the pervasive problem. The media also fuels the problem by victim-blaming and using language that paints defendants in a positive light.