The Sexist

Washington Post Goes “Cuddler”


The Washington Post has apparently ended its internal ban on using a colloquial term for Georgetown's most notorious sexual assailant: The "Cuddler." Over the past two years, Georgetown University students and the campus press have invoked the "Cuddler" nickname to refer to a string of odd sexual assaults that have occurred in and around the university. Since 2008, the unidentified assailant has been accused of everything from sneaking into women's beds, covering them with blankets, and even placing his penis on a woman's thigh.

Today, in an item entitled "'Cuddler' reported," Washington Post reporter Matt Zapotosky submitted his own contribution to "Cuddler" lore. Early Sunday morning, Zapotosky reported, a woman awoke to find a man "cuddling in her bed" next to her.

Previously, the Post had avoided using the term "Cuddler" to refer to the dozen-or-so assaults that have plagued the Georgetown area. In a story on the phenomenon from Sept. 2009, Paul Duggan confined his "cuddler" references to direct quotations from Georgetown students, but never invoked the nickname himself. Over the past two years, the Post has only published the word "cuddler" three times: in Zapatosky's story, Duggan's direct quotes, and a "Date Lab" feature in which one blind-dater claimed that he had been told he's "a good cuddler."

There are a couple of good reasons for a crime reporter to avoid "Cuddler":

(1) Placing your penis on a stranger's body is far from cuddly;

(2) It's possible that we're not dealing with a "Cuddler" here, but rather "Cuddlers." As the Post reported back in September, police don't know whether or not the dozen-or-so assaults reported over the past two years were even committed by the same perpetrator. Witness descriptions have yielded a range of heights, ages, and ethnicities, and attacks attributed to a "Cuddler" have been reported as far away as College Park, Md.

The "Cuddler" nickname occupies the space between fact and mythology. He is both a flesh-and-blood crime suspect and an archetype—a convenient shorthand for a pattern of crimes that the cops are unable to pin on one guy. The most recent assault failed to reign in the Cuddler's steadily expanding resume. The victim, Zapotosky reports, was "not able to give officers a good description of the man." And the woman's bed is located almost a mile north of the upper reaches of Georgetown University, on the 3800 block of Calvert Street NW (pictured)—hardly a campus attack.

Zapotosky's item awkwardly attempts to bridge the gap between "Cuddler" legend and reality. "Looks like the District has another 'cuddler' on the loose," he wrote. "His latest victim: a Northwest Washington woman who woke up just before 6:30 a.m. Sunday to find him cuddling her in her bed, police said." Zapotosky's "Cuddler" is both a new suspect ("another 'Cuddler'") and a serial criminal (his victim is merely "his latest").

Of course, there's one good reason to invoke "Cuddler"—since the assaults gained mainstream attention last year, D.C. residents have been fascinated with all things cuddly, and invoking the nickname helps interested parties know that they should listen up. But the Post is less interested in the nickname than readers. When asked about the more liberal use of "cuddler" in official Post copy, criminal justice editor Mike Semel responded, "You're reading more into it than there is. There's nothing going on" in terms of policy.

Additional reporting by Erik Wemple; photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Reid

    For what it's worth, the email sent out by MPD2D used the word cuddle. Read that way, it's not so egregious that the Post would publish the sentence: "His latest victim: a Northwest D.C. woman who woke up just before 6:30 a.m. Sunday to find him cuddling her in her bed, police said."

    The police did in fact "say" that she found him "cuddling" the victim. I think they should at least have mitigated the use of the word with some more scare quotes.

  • Phira

    How. Is. Crime. CUDDLY?

    It's so hard for me to put myself in the mindset of a perpetrator or the enabling bystanders; I automatically think in the victim/survivor mindset. And so to call this/these perp/s "the Cuddler" is mindblowingly inaccurate. If I wake up to find a stranger in my house, he's breaking and entering. If I wake up to find a stranger in my house who's in my bed next to me, he's cuddling?!

  • Emily WK

    Isn't this an extension of referring to rape as "unlawful sex" or even "sexual intercourse"?

    I mean, if rape can't really be considered rape because it's just sex, isn't sexual assault just some fucking friendly cuddling?

    I wonder if anyone who wrote that the victims were cuddled had actually spoken to a victim, or knows someone who has been the victim of sexual assault. I mean, of course they statistically know someone, but if they are aware of it. I can't imagine the language does much else except diminish the crime and make it seem less awful.

  • Reid

    Also, I think part of the story must also be why MPD2D is putting out emails using the term, even after Commander Klein had that totally awesome quote last year: "You cuddle someone you love. We're looking for a criminal."

  • Comrade Al Gonzales

    The people labeled him "the Georgetown Cuddler". "Cuddler" is no more of a euphemism than "groper". Both are sexual assaults. "Groping" diminishes sexual assault to the same degree that "cuddling" diminishes it, but don't expect the ignorant, unenlightened CP readers [& columnists] to recognize anything but their own belly buttons.

  • Truth hurts

    "Cuddler" is what I call my 6 year old daughter when she snuggles up before bedtime. Criminal, predator, pervert are terms I use to describe the guy who entered my older daughter's Gtown group home a couple of years ago and scared her friend shitless. WAPO: You're idiots for making this asshole sound like a teddy bear.

  • Comrade ♥ Al ♥ Gonzales ♥

    Georgetown students came up the the name, "The Georgetown Cuddler". "The Boston Strangler" was a good nickname, but the kids at Georgetown call this guy "The Georgetown Cuddler".

    Btw, we called a big kid "Cuddles" while we were growing up. Of course, he would kick your ass if you called him Cuddles to his face, but when he wasn't around, it was always "Cuddles this" or "Cuddles that".

    I'm predicting that if the pigs ever catch this guy, the guy will be the biggest nerd this side of Bill Gates. He's definitely a white guy, so we know that much. I figure he's just an average white guy who's mom didn't hold him enough when he was little...

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  • Rick Mangus

    Lock you're doors, dumb ass!

  • Golden Silence

    Lock you’re doors, dumb ass!

    And you learn how to spell, dumb ass! Blaming the victims for what happened is ridiculous.

  • Rick Mangus

    Yes I am blaming the victim, if you live in any city and do not take SIMPLE precations to protect yourself then don't bitch, moan, or cry because you are stupid.

  • Dan Clowes

    Life imitating art?: