Sunday, March 16, 2008

ME - Reality TV sends mixed message about hazing

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Two university of Maine researchers have conducted a survey of students at 53 large and small colleges and universities around the country and found out that hazing, despite being banned in 44 states, is widespread.

We're not surprised.

Hazing, as defined by researchers Mary Madden and Elizabeth Allen, is "any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers, regardless of a person's willingness to participate."

When was the last time you watched a television reality show? "American Idol"? "The Apprentice"? "America's Next Top Model"? All require the contestants or major characters to engage in humiliating activities in front of a vast, television-watching public. Tears and trembling lower lips are de rigeur. Glee from sadistic hosts is part of the package.

Indeed, the New York Times reported last week about a lawsuit involving the family of a man pushed to suicide by a voyeuristic and predatory television show:

"In November 2006, a camera crew from 'Dateline NBC' and a police SWAT team descended on the Texas home of Louis William Conradt Jr., a 56-year-old assistant district attorney. The series' 'To Catch a Predator' team had allegedly caught Mr. Conradt making online advances to a decoy who pretended to be a 13-year-old boy. When the police and TV crew stormed Mr. Conradt's home, he took out a handgun and shot himself to death."

"That'll make good TV," one of the police officers on the scene reportedly told an NBC producer."

That the American television-watching public evidently loves to watch the voluntary humiliation of others -- and television producers have found a way to make money off it -- is not to excuse hazing in any way. It has existed for decades (perhaps millennia in the form of tribal initiation rites) and in its worst forms is a loathsome and even dangerous activity.

Maine is one of the states in which hazing is illegal, and last summer, after discovering photos on the Internet of members drinking alcohol, dressing in costumes and making obscene gestures at a "rookie party," the University of Maine appropriately suspended the entire women's softball team.

Yet we are left to wonder at the contradictory message that students who are warned against hazing get. On the one hand, their institutions -- even state -- ban the practice. On the other hand, their culture celebrates its worst manifestations.

What did the University of Maine softball players do when they were suspended for hazing? Go back to their dorms to watch "Survivor"?

CT - Child sex offenders barred from parks, play areas

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BRISTOL — The city approved the creation of child-safety zones Tuesday where registered sex offenders who targeted minors won’t be allowed.

“This is a step in the right direction,” said city Councilor Frank Nicastro.

Councilors unanimously endorsed the statute, which will take effect in about two weeks.

Nicastro said he’s glad the city “is getting something [with] some teeth” by creating areas where children congregate that are barred to sex offenders.

The police are obligated to issue warnings to registered child sex offenders who go to municipal parks, schools, pools, beaches ball fields and other child-friendly sites.

Offenders who refuse to move on, or return after being told to depart, will face $90 fines.

Nicastro said the savage beating and rape of a teenage girl in Brackett Park last year by a registered sex offender who was wearing an electronic bracelet at the time showcased the need for more government action.

“We have to do everything we can to protect our children,” said the councilor, who asked the Ordinance Committee to adopt the law.

There are some cases when sex offenders can enter the new child-safety zones.

They are allowed to enter polling places to vote even if voting machines are located within one of the zones.

They can also enter zones if they need to do so in order to meet conditions attached to their probation.

Finally, councilors agreed to allow sex offenders who have their own children to pick them up at school.

At any given time, there are about 100 registered sex offenders living in Bristol. It isn’t clear how many of them were convicted of a crime involving a minor.

Dale Clift, an assistant city attorney, has said that the new law would require police Chief John DiVenere to send written notice of the ordinance to everyone on the registry who lives in Bristol. Similar letters will be sent to anyone added to the registry, said city Councilor Craig Minor.

The measure is modeled on one that Danbury adopted last year.