Staff of Boston University’s “independent student newspaper” the Daily Free Press will have to take “mandatory sensitivity training” after complaints that the paper made fun of victims of sexual crimes.
In an apology letter from the paper’s board of directors posted in mid-July, the board said the paper will from now on use “only serious headlines” in its crime reports. It plans to even go back and fix insensitive ones from the past.
“The Crime Logs sections of The Daily Free Press have repeatedly published callous sub-headlines making light of serious issues and inadvertently exploiting victims of crime for humor,” the letter admits.
The letter noted that the insensitive practice of joke headlines was highlighted by a blogpost on XOJane.com by a victim of sexual assault who is a student at Boston University.
The anonymous female student’s blog for XOJane.com was published July 18 and was headlined “It happened to me: I was raped at Boston University and the student newspaper made a joke of it.” The student called the Daily Free Press’s weekly crime blotter “shocking, and incredibly personally offensive” because the paper’s report on her sexual assault was “minimized…to a RAP PUN.”
The student said she found out about not only the Crime Logs section but also about a report on her own assault after she confided in a friend about her assault. The friend connected the dots and told her the newspaper had done a report on a similar incident. When the student found the report on her assault, she found the title “horrifying” and “humiliating” and she said she “felt less-than-human.” While she didn’t link to the report in question to protect her anonymity, she did offer a “description of the title.”
“It is a pun involving a popular rap song that describes the sexual appeal of a woman’s body,” the student explained. “So, the angle is how rape-able I was? How enticing I must have been? How much the man wanted me?”
The student victim wrote that the crime blotter “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.”
In doing so, “they not only completely downplay the severity of the incidents but in some cases even make fun of the victims,” she wrote.
The five specific examples the student pointed to all have new headlines as of July 31. For example, headlines have been changed from “Choked Up” and “Where for art thou, creepy dude?” to “domestic violence” and “attempted breaking and entering,” respectively. At the bottom of each of the crime reports is an editor’s note reading:
“As of July 18, 2013, headlines of crime logs were taken down as per new policy.”
Because it was “standard practice” for the newspaper to use joke headlines on crime reports, the student victim argued that the paper has a “systemic problem.” She called for an apology and for the newspaper to stop using the joke headlines. As evidence, the student cited five cases, including the headline “Choked up,” for a report on a student being “choked by her boyfriend” and “Where for art thou, creepy dude?” for a story about a man’s attempted break-in of a female dorm room.
Headlines on other crime blotter posts weren’t changed, however For example, a crime log about a student’s ticket for a marijuana cigarette is headlined “A Joint Effort.” Another blotter item was about a fired dining services employee assaulting a former manager is titled “A-salt and butter-y.”
Boston Magazine noted that two years ago, the Daily Free Press got in trouble for its April Fool’s Day edition, “which used Disney characters to create fake stories about rape and other crimes.” The newspaper’s editor resigned and apologized because of the incident.
iMediaEthics has reached out to the Daily Free Press asking for more information about the sensitivity training and the new policy. We’ll update with any response.
Hat Tip: Editor & Publisher