"What we found distressing was the prevalence: 48 percent of all students who join any group in high school are subjected to hazing" at some point during their four years, Nadine C. Hoover, the principal investigator, said at the National Press Club.
About nine out of 10 high school students join groups. Although only 14 percent said they considered themselves as having been hazed, 48 percent described activities that met the research team's definition of "any humiliating or dangerous activity expected of you to join a group, regardless of your willingness to participate."
Ms. Hoover said, "We found that every high school student who joins any group â€“ from gangs to church groups, from the football team to the band â€“ is at risk of being hazed."
She said the researchers' conclusions were based primarily on 1,541 responses to a survey mailed in April to 18,600 high school students.
The survey, weighted for demographic and geographic factors, produced statistically reliable results, but it was not large enough to calculate regional or state-level findings. Follow-up studies will "confirm or refute and further refine these findings," Ms. Hoover said.
The researchers concluded that when students joined high school groups:
About 43 percent of the joiners were involved in the lowest level of hazing â€“ humiliation. The most common forms were being yelled or cursed at, isolated from other people, being forced to act as a personal servant to older members, to undress or tell dirty stories or jokes.
About 24 percent of the joiners were pressured to engage in substance abuse. That included drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco or using illegal drugs.
About 27 percent mentioned behavior the researchers described as dangerous. The most common were making prank phone calls, harassing others, destroying or vandalizing property, being ordered to steal, cheat, commit a crime, beat up others or pick a fight.
Chances of being hazed were highest for new members in a fraternity or sorority, peer group or gang, a sports team or a cheerleading squad. But in sheer numbers, most of those who were hazed belonged to a sports team, peer group or gang, a music, art or theater group, or a church group.
Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y., commissioned the report as a follow-up to its national survey on hazing in colleges, which was conducted last year after a fatal hazing incident on its campus in upstate New York.
Even before the new survey, concern about hazing in high schools was growing fast enough to convince the American School Board Journal to include an anti-hazing cover article, "Brutal Rituals, Dangerous Rites," in its August issue.
Kevin Bushweller, who wrote the article, said, "What we learned was that if adults don't pay attention to initiation rites, they can turn into a kind of Lord of the Flies scenario, where kids use really bizarre and humiliating and dangerous tactics."
Lizzie Murtie of Essex, Vt., was a 14-year-old who still collected Beanie Babies and sighed over I Love Lucy reruns when her initiation onto the school gymnastics team turned ugly.
A crowd of older girls from the team coerced her and other rookies into dropping to their knees in a parking lot and conducting a simulated sexual act in a parking lot with a boy holding a banana.
"I was 14 and I didn't feel like I had the power to stand up and say this shouldn't be going on," said Lizzie, who was interviewed by phone Monday while her mother monitored the call.
Like most hazing victims, she told no one. She stayed on the team, continued to go to school and tried to forget what had gone on.
But she had trouble sleeping through the night, talking to friends, or forcing herself to leave the house for a vacation, a shopping trip or a visit to her grandmother.
Six months later, after another girl's parent learned of the incident and reported it, Lizzie's parents helped arrange for her to receive counseling, and she was able to talk about what had happened.
Lizzie later went public and was prominent in the lobbying effort that resulted in Vermont's first anti-hazing law, which went into effect in July.
"A reason for the law is that I didn't want what happened to me to happen to anyone else," said Lizzie, now 16, who was recently elected captain of her gymnastics team. Even so, she said, "I haven't really talked to other kids about it."
Her mother, Linda Murtie, said that some adults "are like my husband and me: We never heard of hazing and are horrified." But others have told her, "Sure, we've heard of it, but it's no big deal."
"It is a big deal," said Norman Pollard, director of counseling at Alfred University, who has counseled hundreds of teens. "Kids, lots of them, are getting hurt both physically and emotionally."
Among the high school students who had been hazed and responded to the university's survey, 27 percent mentioned only negative feelings, including anger, embarrassment, confusion and guilt. Another 27 percent mentioned only positive feelings, including "being part of the group," proud, strong or trusted. Another 32 percent said they had both positive and negative feelings, and 13 percent said their main feeling was a desire for revenge.