March 10, 2009— -- On a chilly autumn morning, four young men wore nothing but diapers as they marched together in a line. They were following their two pledge masters to the sidewalk for another round of "loyalty tests."
"You want to be part of this?" the pledge master yelled.
"Yes!" The four pledges replied in unison.
Watch the story on "What Would You Do?" Tuesday, March 10, at 10 p.m. ET
The torturous games had just begun as one pledge was forced to guzzle what appeared to be vodka from a funnel.
"Open wide … take it all down … it's delicious!" the pledge master taunted.
It's supposed to be an initiation process, the ultimate bonding experience, but often fraternities, sports teams and even marching bands have taken this traditional rite of passage too far.
This type of hazing would have normally taken place behind closed doors, but ABC News decided to stage this scenario in public, to see what ordinary people would do if they witnessed hazing.
Just down the road from a college on Long Island, where local police told us they have had to deal with real college hazing in the past, ABC News set up an ethical dilemma.
"What Would You Do?" hired four male actors to play the role of young, scared pledges and two additional actors to be their "Pledge Masters" who issued orders without mercy.
From a nearby truck we watched people's reactions as our hidden cameras rolled.
One unsuspecting teenager, walking with her sister, came face-to-face with our hazing scenario.
"We have this thing we like to do with goldfish," the pledge master explained, holding up a funnel and a tank of live goldfish.
He asked the young women to help him out, and one of them complied, holding the funnel in the pledge's mouth. The two girls watched as the pledge was forced to swallow vodka and a goldfish.
When ABC News correspondent John Quinones emerged with a camera crew to explain that this was a staged event, the girls told him they didn't think the pledges were in danger.
It's no surprise that teenagers and adults may see hazing differently. One pledge, however, was attached to a pole with saran wrap.
"It can get out of hand, but it can also be fun and people want to do it to get in," one of the teens said.
According to Susan Lipkins, psychologist and author of the book "Preventing Hazing," tolerating this type of behavior contributes to the problem.
"They're outrageous destructive behaviors that if we continue to let everybody do it, it will grow more and more common," said Lipkins. "More kids will die and more kids will get hurt."
At least once a year, somewhere in the country, hazing ends in tragedy. On the same weekend that we were shooting our "What Would You Do?" scenario in November, a student died at a fraternity party at the University of Delaware. The 18-year-old freshman was a pledge.
Kate Ferrari and Ron Kellner, who both happened upon our staged scenario, had heard the news about the student's death, and weren't willing to let the same tragic event happen in their own town. They jumped right in when they noticed the hazing.
"You know a kid just died this weekend?" asked Ferrari.
"Pick them up off the ground and take them f**king home before somebody dies!" demanded Kellner.
Another passerby, Katharine Tischer, also tried to stop the hazing.
"Have you ever been part of a sorority?" the pledge master asked her.
"No, I wouldn't put myself though this!" said Tischer, "How can they trust you guys if you beat them and humiliate them?"
"Because they are our pledges!" responded the pledge master. "It's none of your business."
When we later revealed to Tischer what was really going on, tears started streaming down her face.
"You had the guts to approach all these young men who looked pretty threatening ... why?" Quinones asked.
"It was wrong!" said Tischer. "I couldn't stand looking at it, it's wrong! People should stand up for something like that."
Tischer was 17 years old and had never been in a sorority, but our staged scenario hit too close to home.
"I've been made fun of since middle school and I don't want other people to degrade themselves like that just to be part of some friends." she explained. "They're not friends if they make you go through that."
What Happens When Girls Haze One Another?
According to Lipkins, there's a big difference between male and female hazing: "The men tend to be a little bit more aggressive, the women are almost worse because they take the sense of self down to nothing."
"You're fat! You're a slut! You are so ugly!" yelled the hazer. "What makes you think you are good enough?"
With a marker in hand the female hazer wrote out the letters "F-A-T" on the pledge's body, a common hazing practice according to Lipkins.
It seemed outrageous to us, but would people step in and say something?
Surprisingly, some people, such as Jarett Mitrani, stood by and then sat down on a nearby corner to watch the action.
"I don't know it was entertaining I guess …" Mitrani said later.
Another man, Andrew Minas, immediately recognized the hazing and looked alarmed at first, but when asked to take photographs by the hazers, he complied.
Then he offered them advice: "With an open beer like that you might get in trouble."
When later asked why he didn't try and stop the hazing, Minas told us he wanted to help but he felt it wasn't his place to interfere with someone's personal life.
When two mothers witnessed our hazing experiment, we assumed they would come to the aid of these young women. They did jump in but not to help the pledges.
"What do you want to call that one?" asked the hazer.
"Vomit," said the mother. "She's vomit."
"What about that one right there?" asked the hazer as she pointed to another pledge.
"She should be like … ultimate slut!" responded the mother.
They seemed as if they were enjoying themselves, but when we caught up with them the women told us they were about to call 911.
"I had the phone in my hand!" said the mother. "I'm like 911! 911!"
And when our correspondent asked them if they might have encouraged the situation, they both disagreed.
"No, because you know what? I don't want to go to jail. I would've beat the sh*t out of all of them," replied the mother. "911 is the place to go."
After three days of shooting, no one intervened with the female hazing until we discovered the one thing that was foolproof -- a woman's tears.
"Get me off!" cried the pledge. "I want off!"
As the pledge was saran wrapped to a pole she pleaded for help, and her cries were not ignored. Immediately John Conley and Nancy Cerullo jumped in and came to the aid of our distressed actress.
"Get her off that pole!" demanded Conley.
"What the hell are you doing?" yelled Cerullo. "I don't care what you have on your shirts, that girl is being tortured!"
Before things went any further, Quinones entered to break the scene.
"I think everybody needs to step in," said Conley's wife, Amy. "When you see something, you need to act on it."
To learn more about how to prevent hazing, visit Susan Lipkin's Web site or contact her directly at email@example.com.
For more information on lives that have been lost due to hazing please check out these documentaries: