News & Politics

Hazing Epidemic Continues: Coach Reportedly Witnessed Sexual Assault, Congratulated Victim

Multiple lawsuits reveal culture of disturbing "hazing" at Illinois high school.

The US military's top officer warned over recent hazing incidents among American troops, saying such misconduct was cruel and would not be tolerated. General Martin Dempsey, pictured in November 2011, issued the statement after charges were issued in connection with the death of an Army soldier who was allegedly abused in Afghanistan and following the suicide of a Marine earlier this year.

Hazing rituals have come under increasing scrutiny of late after a number of them have resulted in injury, trauma and even death for young people. In the military, a hazing incident that led to the death of a young Asian-American soldier has become a target for activists as late as this week, after a light sentence was handed down for the perpetrators.

At Florida A&M, a fatal hazing incident led to the resignation of top university officials.

A new scandal at a high school in Illionois is particularly disturbing because some evidence implicates an adult authority figure in a hazing ritual that was, in essence, sexual assault. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

When a soccer player at Maine West High School was sexually assaulted on the school campus in July in an apparent act of hazing, Des Plaines police were told the school’s varsity soccer coach watched it happen.

He even allegedly congratulated the victim, welcomed him “and asked him if it was all good.”

Even worse, allegations in a police report have the coach threatening the younger players with hazing, and multiple instances of the same kind of sexualized violence being acted out on younger players--on different teams--again and again:

And now police reports released Wednesday by the Des Plaines Police Department reveal a disturbing new set of allegations involving soccer coach Michael Divincenzo. They include a claim that he threatened to have varsity players assault freshmen if they didn’t start “communicating.”

The reports, along with an expanding lawsuit against Maine Township High School District 207, also suggest a larger hazing culture sanctioned by the coach at the northwest suburban school district.

One of the players allegedly involved in the hazing is quoted in a police report as saying “‘everyone’ agreed to initiate freshmen, and an initiation is to take a freshman down,” sodomize them with their fingers and give them “wedgies.”

This story coming after the military hazing scandal and both the abuse at Penn State and the Florida A&M hazing scandal remind us of the dangers and threat of victimization posed by both hypermasculine culture and, in some cases, unqualified support of athletics. No one signs up for abuse when they join a team or pledge a frat or even sign up to serve in the military, and authority figures are supposed to watch younger folks and recognize the not so difficult line between horsing around and violence and violation.

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Sarah Seltzer is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published at the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Jezebel and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahmseltzer and find her work at