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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