Despite being made illegal 13 years ago, the custom of initiation rites, or hazing, is still common at French universities, according to a report from anti-hazing organization CNCB (Comité national contre le bizutage).

"/> Despite being made illegal 13 years ago, the custom of initiation rites, or hazing, is still common at French universities, according to a report from anti-hazing organization CNCB (Comité national contre le bizutage).

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Female students are ‘main victims of hazing’

Despite being made illegal 13 years ago, the custom of initiation rites, or hazing, is still common at French universities, according to a report from anti-hazing organization CNCB (Comité national contre le bizutage).

The practice, known as bizutage in French, involves older students requiring new arrivals to take part in activities that often involve large amounts of alcohol, nudity and humiliation.

“Girls are the main victims of hazing,” said Marie-France Henry, the president of the CNCB, at a press conference on Tuesday. “The sexual humiliations are more violent than for boys and simulated acts of forced fellatio are frequent.”

CNCB published the results of a survey among parents on Tuesday which showed that 92 percent believe hazing rituals can lead to “serious psychological traumas.” 78 percent agreed that the practices are a “humiliating ordeal.”

The practice was made illegal in 1998 by former Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal when she was an education minister. Penalties include a €7,500 fine and up to six months imprisonment.

Newspaper Le Parisien spoke to a number of students who recounted their own unpleasant experiences of hazing. 

Floriane, a 21-year-old student in Paris, told how two female students, handcuffed and in their underwear, were forced to find the key for the handcuffs with their mouths in a tin full of dog food. 

“In the showers, I saw girls in tears because people had taken pictures of them when they were naked,” she said.

Michael, a medical student in his third year, told the newspaper he was forced to take part in a game of ‘artistic vomiting’, which required drinking different coloured cocktails and then vomiting to create a rainbow effect on the ground. As a final pièce-de-résistance the resulting mess was cleaned up with curtains that were then draped across the competitors.

The minister responsible for higher education, Laurent Wauquiez, wrote to university heads two weeks ago to remind them to be “vigilant” about hazing practices in their institutions.

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UNIVERSITY

From rubbing nettles on genitals to porno scenes: How the French student ritual of ‘bizutage’ lives on

Shocking reports of "bizutage" - or hazing - in French universities have been making national headlines this week. But what exactly is "bizutage" and why is everyone talking about it now?

From rubbing nettles on genitals to porno scenes: How the French student ritual of 'bizutage' lives on
Photo: AFP
What is it?
 
Essentially bizutage is the French version of hazing and is a kind of hardcore initiation ceremony that still takes place among student groups across France, even though it is illegal.
 
Bizutage is used as a way for older students to take power over younger ones and includes “rituals”, challenges, and other activities often involving harassment, abuse or humiliation to initiate a person into a group.
 
In France the practices are often sexual, sexist or homophobic in nature and usually involve a lot of alcohol, reported l'Express in 2014
 
The French word could come from “bisogne” meaning new soldier or rookie, or “bésu” which means “new pupil” or “silly”.
 
 
Photo: Screenshot/ BFM TV
 
Why is it in the news?
 
Medicine students at the University of Caen in Normandy, north west France were banned this year from holding the equivalent of their freshers weekend due to the bizutage practices that have gone on in previous years. 
 
The ban was announced after it emerged two student unions have been building a file of the tawdry behaviour that has gone on since 2016, leading Caen's prosecutor to open a legal investigation.
 
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The file details extreme hazing practices and the points that are awarded to students if they carry out each task, proof of which need to be provided on film or in images.
 
These include simulating sex in a shop changing room for five minutes (10 points), a guy going up to a group of people in the street, asking them if they are familiar with monkey's brains before showing them his testicles (20 points) and a student rubbing nettles on their penis or vagina for 20 seconds (40 points), according to the unions. 
 
And it doesn't stop there, with the unions saying that the tasks awarded the most points include shooting pornographic footage (50 points) and having an employee of the medical student association, nicknamed “Rosy”, who is in his fifties according to Le Monde, penetrate them with a sex toy (40 points). 
 
According to Ouest-France, the first-year students had to photocopy their breasts and “Rosy” would decorate the walls of the photocopy room with them. 
 
The reports from Caen have prompted students from universities across France to recount their own tales of humiliating hazing.
 
One student in Toulouse gave the example of a girl having to eat the traditional south western dish Cassoulet off the buttocks of another male student while another young woman had to endure male employees at the student's office slapping her in the face with their penises.
 
 
Photo: AFP
 
But it's not legal?
 
Nope. The practice of “bizutage” has been against the law in France since 1998. 
 
If someone causes another person – either against his will or not – to suffer or to commit humiliating or degrading acts, this is punishable by up to six months imprisonment and a fine of up to €7,500 in France. 
 
“It's not only sexual and sexist acts which are banned. It's all humiliating and degrading acts.There is no kind 'bizutage',” said Marie-France Henry president of the national association against hazing in an interview with BFM TV (see below). 
 
In the tweet below she is shown being interviewed alongside a photo of the room where the photocopied breasts were displayed in Caen's faculty of medicine.
 
But can the law really be enforced?
 
Despite the increase in the number of complaints against hazing practices, “unfortunately they are often dismissed for lack of evidence,” Henry said.
 
She added that there is a certain complacency on the part of the courts when it comes to these young people.
 
“The legal system and schools are often cautious in punishing students severely, as this could have consequences for their future, but if there are no sanctions, they have no reason to stop,” she said.
 
What do the students say?
 
Student accounts collected by Ouest-France and Le Monde emphasize the pressure they felt to comply with the “rituals”.
 
“We are told that there is no obligation,” one student told Le Monde. “But if you want the chance to do well, it is better to develop good relations with the right people.”
 
Another student confirmed this view.
 
“It's part of studying medicine, which is difficult, so we tolerate it. The humiliation that we will undergo and then put the following year's students through will weld the group,” they said. 
 
Photo: AFP
 
Speaking to Ouest-France, a student said: “It took me a long time to admit that I had suffered violence.
 
“We often talk about the machismo or the sexism of the medical world. It starts when you study medicine. I want to stop saying that it doesn't matter.”
 
Humanité newspaper tweeted out numbers that students can call if they need help or have been a victim of “bizutage”.