LINCOLN — The "freshman dash" may sound innocent enough.

It involves older students dropping high school newbies 5 miles out of town and making them run back, said Bobby Truhe, a Lincoln attorney who often represents Nebraska school districts.

But hazing rituals have a way of escalating. Truhe told the Legislature's Judiciary Committee Thursday that some students have been forced to drink water until they puke, or fondle each other in the shower, or submit to "goosing," which, as the name implies, involves the pinching of private parts.

"I see the schools and administrators struggle with how to handle the issue of hazing," Truhe said in support of a bill that would allow prosecutors to file hazing charges against students in grades as low as middle school.

Last summer law enforcement authorities investigated an incident at a wrestling camp in which some students were reportedly made to eat doughnuts placed on the genitals of other students. Charges were not filed in the case.

Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango said he introduced Legislative Bill 710 because of what he called the "egregious incident" at the wrestling camp, which involved a school from his southwest Nebraska legislative district. A prosecutor told Hughes that what happened fit the definition of hazing, but current law permits the charge only for college-age students.

Hughes said his intent is not to punish younger kids with serious criminal convictions but to reinforce the message that hazing will not be tolerated.

The current definition of hazing includes things such as forced consumption of alcohol, food or other substances, exposure to elements, and sleep deprivation. LB 710 would add to the list indecent exposure, fondling, or lewd caressing of the body.

The dangers of hazing are easy to understand when an activity results in physical harm to a student, said Virginia Moon, whose career included time as superintendent of Ralston Public Schools and interim superintendent at Omaha Public Schools.

Hazing, like bullying, can result in psychological harm that can be just as damaging as physical harm, said Moon, who testified in support of the bill for the Nebraska Council of School Administrators.

What occurs in some hazing can result in criminal charges, such as sexual assault. But other times the actions fall into a legal gray area, Hughes said.

No one testified against the bill Thursday.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9587, joe.duggan@owh.com

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