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An Overview Of Events Involving Hazing And Sex Related Crimes


Interviewer: In light of the recent situations regarding hazing allegations; what’s been going on with the particular football team?

James Abate: The case that we’re talking about has to deal with the Sayreville High School football team. I happen to have a little bit of a connection to that. The school superintendent Richard Labbe happened to have been the school superintendent where my family lived before he went to Sayreville. So we know some of the people involved and we know the extreme acts of courage it took to make some of the calls that they did. At the same time, we also know the legal issues that are going on in this case.

The Members of the Sayreville High School Football Team were Sexually Assaulting Newer Members as Part of their Initiation

In Sayreville there was a systematic period of time where members of the football team were, as part of instituting whatever order they had, sexually assaulting the younger members of the team. They thought it was a road you have to step along to become an older member of the football team and that of course is considered hazing. It is covered under section 2C:40-3, that’s aggravated hazing.  It also brings into mind sexual assault, which is covered under 2C:14-2 and those are the two primary crimes that we would be dealing with but charges of bullying would be involved as well.

The Prosecutors Can Charge these Crimes Either as Felonies or Juvenile Offenses

This is a topic which deals with so much that we cover as criminal lawyers. One of the reasons is that with a case like this is also the question of what happens to juveniles who’ve been charged with an adult crime such as this. You have to deal with the fact that you have two possibilities.  These are both indictable crimes which elsewhere they would call them felonies, some of these involve first degree indictable crimes, which means that you’re looking at 10 to 20 years in jail with no probation. We can get to how they were eventually dealt with; you can also be dealt with as a juvenile which is handled in the family court by the county prosecutors. The prosecutors have a decision to make whether to seek leave to charge them with a felony crime and whether to charge them as juveniles which brings a much different system into play.

Situations Involving Hazing and Bullying are Common Occurrences

Interviewer: Is this a situation that actually occurs often? Is this a common occurrence with hazing or different sex crimes involving high school students?

James Abate: I had represented people who are in this situation and I’ve been on the other side and advocated for the victims as well. Even if something like this happens just once, nobody comes out of it in good shape. As you’ve seen, these situations do end up being major news stories. We saw it with the situation that was going on at Penn State University for over a decade and what ends up happening is that there may be more of these situations going on than we know about. The reason we don’t know about them is that the administrators try to keep them under wraps.

The School Authorities Generally Tend to Keep Incidents of Hazing Under Wraps

One of the things that we found out in the Penn State case was that there were people in the system who knew about when it happened.  There were a lot of people who blamed the coach Paterno for that sickening encounter but it seems as if he did what he was supposed to do. He told people above him who were supposed to then contact authorities. What happened from there on out, the reports are out there if anybody really wants to know but people dropped the ball and a lot of children were harmed. My feeling is that there probably are more situations like this out there but people in the past have tried to keep them under control.

The Authorities Should Report These Incidents and Deal With Them Instead of Trying to Cover Them Up

In this situation is Dr. Labbe did the opposite, he immediately cancelled the season, he immediately brought in the police and he immediately started suspending people. What he did was in the interest of the community, certainly in the interest of the kids who in the past and in the future may have been victims of this.  It is something which is different from the way they handled it at Penn State. This may be the new paradigm for how people are going to handle these situations so that rather than try and hide what’s going on, they’re going to make sure they cover themselves right away because administrators who fail to report this sort of thing look to be in big trouble with the law and hurt their programs.

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