Boston University Student Paper Apologizes For ‘Callous’ Headlines About Sexual Assault

A sexual assault victim was outraged by the paper’s use of puns in headlines to describe serious and violent crimes.

Photo via Flickr.com

Photo via Flickr.com/mbell1975

Boston University’s student-run newspaper will have a new approach to reporting police incidents after a student who was the victim of a sexual assault near campus demanded the publication issue an apology for the way editors address serious and violent crimes in their headlines, both in print and online.

On Thursday, the Board of Directors for The Daily Free Press, the independently run news publication at the school, issued a statement following a blog post that was posted by the victim on XOJane.com. The victim described in detail how the Press made jokes about her alleged sexual assault.

“As illustrated by a posting on XOJane on Thursday, the Crime Logs sections of The Daily Free Press has repeatedly published callous sub-headlines making light of serious issues and inadvertently exploiting victims of crime for humor. On behalf of the Board of Directors of The Daily Free Press, we sincerely apologize for these headlines and any other material that may have caused harm or offense,” the statement said.

According to the victim, who wished to remain anonymous, the traumatic experience was “reduced to a rap pun” when the editors allegedly used what they thought was a humorous headline to describe the ordeal. “The section regularly makes light of crimes like rape, sexual harassment and assault by prefacing the paragraph-long descriptions of the incidents with jokey, pun-ridden titles. They not only completely downplay the severity of the incidents but in some cases even make fun of the victims,” the author wrote, listing off a barrage of puns like “Choked Up,” a headline used to describe a female student that reported being assaulted by her boyfriend in a dorm room. Other headlines included “Stomp the Yard,” which detailed an attack where a student was kicked during a fight, and “Haters Gonna Hate,” about a female student whose dorm room door was vandalized with racial slurs. 

Those have since been changed.

Other examples, which date back several years, remain online, the victim said— including the one that details her assault.

The victim described the headline used to describe the sexual assault as a “horrifying, humiliating title” that made her feel less-than human. “I will not write it out or link to it because I want to remain anonymous and more importantly I refuse to give it the dignity of being repeated. The only description of the title that I will give, so as to clue you in on just how tasteless it is, is that it is a pun involving a popular rap song,” she said. “The day in my life that I was sexually assaulted marked a before-and-after divider in how I felt about myself as a human being and as a woman, and this thoughtless, demeaning description of it by somebody who is a fellow student and supposed ‘journalist’ minimized it to a f****** RAP PUN.”

Many of the reports used in the paper, and online, are taken from the Boston Police Allston-Brighton District 14 crime logs as well as the Boston University Police Department’s crime logs.

The sexual assault happened more than a year ago during the victim’s sophomore year, but the victim only decided to publicly come forward and demand the Press “put an immediate stop” to the practice on Thursday. Within hours of her blog post going up on XOJane.com, the paper responded and apologized.

Alex Nawar, chairman of the paper’s Board of Directors, said going forward the Press will publish crime logs with only serious headlines, and change any past headlines that may be deemed offensive to reflect the publication’s new standards. Students that work for the paper will also have to take sensitivity training classes prior to joining the newspaper’s staff, according to Nawar. “We do not take this issue lightly and hope to learn from our mistakes,” he said.

The Daily Free Press has been in the spotlight in the past for its abrasive use of language in relation to misogyny and sexual assault. In 2011, the newspaper printed an April 1 publication for April Fool’s Day, which used Disney characters to create fake stories about rape and other crimes. The backlash from the paper lead to the then-editor to step down from her post, and issue an apology on behalf of the staff.

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  • Brenda Reynolds

    There is a severe lack of “concern” on the part of colleges and universities to violent crimes committed against women in the first place but, for the student newspaper to add insult to injury to the victim is beyond callus and heartless. They should be screaming for more prosecution of students who commit the violent and violating crimes and less concerned about their public image. Their public image would be uplifted if the violators new they would be prosecuted or disciplined and they stopped committing the crimes in the first damned place.

  • anonymous

    Why wasn’t this dealt with in a direct manner? Instead of writing a malicious passive-aggressive blog post, why didn’t the victim contact the paper, editor, crime logs author, the Paper’s board of directors, the University, SARP, BUPD or any other department on campus directly in a mature fashion?

    Countering a supposed “immature and disrespectful” practice with more immaturity and disrespect to the paper and university only furthers the problem rather than solving it.

    From reading the paper for the last three years, the DFP NEVER releases names or descriptions of the victims, very rarely will they report serious crime and they never report rape. All logs come directly (and pre-edited) from the police departments with descriptions of victims and aftermath redacted. So, when a break-in is reported in the crime logs, they only know about the break-in not what happened afterward. Safe to say, the paper isn’t trying to “out” sexual assault victims as the author claims, merely report the news in straight-forward manner. I don’t think anyone reading the paper is going to discredit a rape victim because the paper uses puns in an indirect manner.

    • Anon

      Because the newspaper does not take direct complaints seriously. I had a friend who had a similar incident occur and when she called the editor to complain she received a hasty and insincere apology before the editor hung up on her. Although I don’t agree with everything written in the blog, I think she is more than within her rights to bring public attention to such an egregious and reoccurring issue.

    • disqus_9vppR7RwlQ

      Firstly: In what way was the article on xojane “immature and disrespectful”? It was well-written and coherent. This woman was legitimately hurt by the actions of the paper, so I don’t think that calling them out is in any way “disrespectful.” Secondly: Maybe the paper wasn’t trying to “out” victims, but surely you see how making a PUN JOKE out of a sexual assault is not reporting the news in a “straight-forward” fashion? Surely you see how humiliating and trivialising that is?

  • no

    that was 2012 that the april fools issue happened

    • AFrankel1

      Except all the ones that weren’t