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

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From rubbing nettles on genitals to porno scenes: How the French student ritual of 'bizutage' lives on
Photo: AFP
13:54 CEST+02:00
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?
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".
 
 
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