Cute Nicknames for Men Who Assault Women

Inappropriate nicknames are turning bizarre assaults into hilarious encounters on college campuses.
At Georgetown University yesterday morning, an unknown man revived a year-long series of assaults between GWU, Georgetown, and American University in which he breaks into women’s apartments near campus, lies down next to or on top of them while they sleep, attempts to enter them with his hand, then runs away when they scream. This earned him the nickname “The Georgetown Cuddler.”
This March at the University of California, Berkeley, a man targeted young women wearing dresses and skirts, and attempted to penetrate them with his hand before running away. Many of the assaulted students were en route from frat or sorority parties on Piedmont Avenue, and the man was dubbed the “Piedmont Poker,” and the “Digital Penetrator,” after the police report for “digital penetration.”
News coverage of assaults has varied results; it can empower women by condemning the violence, but can also heighten fear in the discussion of diminished personal safety. It is possible that these inappropriate nicknames could serve as coping mechanisms for some students to alleviate their fears. Monikers can turn horror into humor. But in the long run, they diminish the seriousness of the situation.
When someone “cuddly” has “surprise sex” with or “pokes” women, reporting it as such excuses the attacker, dismisses violence as acceptable, and condescends to survivors.
The Sexist took this on in Feburary.

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37 Comments

  1. DeafBrownTrash
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    what does it mean to “digitally penetrate”? I’ve never heard that one before.
    Either way, that’s DISGUSTING and not funny at all. If one of those stupid frat morons tried to do that to me, I’ll fucking beat his ass. I don’t even like it if some random stranger tries to touch my mohawk without asking for my permission.

  2. allieb87
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    “digitally penetrate”=to finger

  3. emulsifier
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the previous comment. “Digitally penetrate”?
    Please try to keep your audience as wide as possible and don’t use such vague terms.
    And if you click on the link, the report says I see uses the phrase “sexual assault” often. Obviously refering to a rapist as a “cuddler” is wrong, but I don’t know who you’re trying to blame here.
    But seriously.. what’s digital penetration?

  4. stellarose
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I find those nicknames to be incredibly offensive. What those men are doing is rape, pure and simple. I’ve (thankfully) never been the victim of any sort of assault more severe than a random asshole slapping my ass on the street one night, but I’ll tell you that sort of random, gender-motivated street assault was extremely distressing for me…I tried to shrug it off at the time, but soon after I realized it was a major thing. A statement that as a woman, I had no right to expect physical security/integrity in public. These incidents are a million times worse than that, and I can’t even imagine anyone making light of them.

  5. Mollie
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Digital penetration is fingering, everyone.
    Anyway, that’s pretty scary. I was gonna go to American U.
    The funny nickname part I’m skeptical about, however, because it can easily turn into “just” a joke, and not taken as seriously as it should be.

  6. Ariel
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    Good catch everyone, that “digital penetration” is itself a euphemism– one used by police departments nationwide to mean fingering.

  7. FilthyGrandeur
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    i’m absolutely disgusted by these nicknames. making light of a serious situation that victimizes women is not okay. it’s just “oh that silly man just wants some cuddles,” which is not accurate, given that he’s committing breaking and entering, and sexually ASSAULTING women. assault is not funny.

  8. femme.
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    This kind of stuff makes me sick. All those cutesy little nicknames the media comes up with are shifting blame off of the attacker by making light of the incidents. Those assaults are nothing to poke fun at, yet we do, because we don’t take them seriously. I also get really upset when they’re referred to as “bizarre.” This shit happens all the time in a variety of different environments to a variety of different women. It is not bizarre, it is assault.

  9. Americanist
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    I first heard this “cuddler” moniker last night on the radio (while driving through Georgetown, in fact). Here is the text version of the story I heard:
    http://www.wtop.com/?nid=596&sid=1753018
    It’s unclear who the “some” are who “are calling the string of cases the work of the ‘Georgetown Cuddler.’” But mad props to the cop, who said, “You cuddle someone you love. We’re looking for a criminal.”

  10. Tenya
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Similar to how a police report (or medical report) may say “foreign object penetration” in contrast to “penile penetration,” it isn’t so much a euphemism as an attempt to be as technically specific as possible. Sure, if the report said “fingering” I bet a majority of people would get it, but it is still a slang term, similar to “had sex.”

  11. cattrack2
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Is there any evidence that the police or community aren’t taking this seriously, or is this conjecture? The articles referred to use the word “assault” numerous times. Other than the names given the crimes by the community, it seems like its being taken quite seriously.

  12. crshark
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    …the man was dubbed the “Piedmont Poker,” and the “Digital Penetrator,” after the police report for “digital penetration.”
    What is the source for this claim? The Daily Cal article you linked to does not contain either “nickname”. the article calls the incidents what they are: sexual assaults.

  13. Pantheon
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    Just FYI everyone, its called digital penetration because another word for your fingers is your digits. I guess its a slightly more obscure/scientific word, but its not a euphemism.

  14. pepper
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    another word for finger is digit hence digital penetration.

  15. mandoir
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    Not to be contrary, but I don’t think the article was suggesting that it was a fraternity member responsible for the attacks.

  16. dirtybird
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m not bothered by the nickname thing, but oh my god do I despise the term “surprise sex.” I was beyond shocked when I first heard that used as a “euphemism” (*gag*) for rape.

  17. Sass
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Ugh that is ridiculous and offensive.
    In my city (in Australia) they’ve just sentenced a man who raped 10 women in 18 months on popular jogging/biking tracks in the area. It was a very scary time and the media has been very vehement in labelling him a serial rapist and talking about how serious his assaults were.
    The only time I heard his crimes being minimised was by his defence lawyer who claimed “the total time of the digital rapes was less than 5 minutes” (umm so the women should count themselves lucky, right asshole?)
    I only say this because the media has (rightly) come down really hard on this rapist and not shied away from how serious his assaults were, with no differentiation made between digital and penile rape.
    I wonder if they’re minimising the attacks you mention because college seems to have such a rape culture in the US? Or if the college itself tries to minimise the danger for the sake of reputation?

  18. Ariel
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    You’re right that assault is common. I wasn’t using “bizarre” to mean uncommon, but rather to say, “It would take a really bizarre, messed up person to commit these heinous acts.”

  19. llevinso
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Wouldn’t fingering be the euphemisim? Digital penetration is the technical term. I wouldn’t expect the term fingering to appear anywhere in a police report unless it was in a direct quote from the victim or something.

  20. Ariel
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m talking about the students. College towns rely on word of mouth by college students. At UCB, when you leave to walk alone at night, you don’t hear “Watch out for the criminal” from your friends, you hear “Watch out for the Piedmont Poker.” So it isn’t even the media necessarily, as much as college student immaturity. But for the record, I think the school newspapers should not have recognized or used those monikers at ALL.

  21. Ariel
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    But “digital penetration” is itself so arcane and linguistically inaccessible that it masks the true meaning of the act. A euphemism is:
    “an inoffensive or indirect expression that is substituted for one that is considered offensive or too harsh ”
    Digital penetration is less offensive than “Non-consensually jabbed his finger into her vagina.”

  22. llevinso
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    I honestly don’t at all see what’s so arcane about digital penetration. Unless one doesn’t know what a digit is it’s really easy to know what the reference is. It really seems like the common sense terminology that would be used on a police report to avoid any sort of confusion. Just like penile penetration, penetration with a foreign object…just like what Tenya was talking about. I really fail to see how this is at all wrong on the police’s part.

  23. crshark
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    As I pointed out below, the Daily Cal article to which you linked does not use either moniker to refer to the UC area assailant. And if you’re really criticizing “college student immaturity,” then I think your original post is misleading or confusing because it critiques only “news coverage of the assaults.”

  24. hellotwin
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Wow, good thing I’m applying to GW, Georgetown, American U and Berkeley for law/policy school…

  25. NapoleonInRags
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    It isn’t vague, it’s just rather clinical.

  26. allieb87
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    When I first read this, it really bothered me. It’s actually taken me a few hours to articulate why.
    Obviously, this is awful and the “cute” nicknames don’t make it any better. I attended a much smaller college not far from Berkeley where misogyny and sexual assault are quite literally rampant. I always thought of Cal as my retreat… a safe haven almost. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that assault happens there too but I was sort of taken aback.
    There’s really no point to this comment… the post just affected me more than I was prepared for it to…

  27. spiral.of.life
    Posted September 2, 2009 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Last year there was a guy at Wellesley College who was waiting for women to walk by, then masturbating in front of them. They called him the “Wellesley Masturbator,” the “Wellesley Fondler,” and the “Wellesley Wanker.”
    Real nice, huh?

  28. Pantheon
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    A euphemism usually means using a less offensive term that doesn’t explicitly mean what you are talking about. If they said “he used his fingers, if you know what I mean” that would be a euphemism. Even “fingering” is a euphemism– it may have come to refer to penetrating someone with your fingers, but that isn’t its only meaning, and its pretty vague. It also is often used to describe a consensual activity– aren’t we always saying they shouldn’t say sex when they mean rape?
    “Digital penetration” is an accurate, clinical term. It doesn’t necessarily imply non-consent but it doesn’t imply consent either. Its exactly the type of language I’d expect to see on an official report that’s trying to be as accurate and clear as possible. There are probably other ways they could have said it– “penetration with his fingers” would be one way– but I wouldn’t expect them to use “fingering” unless it was a direct quote from someone non-official.
    I’m honestly surprised that so many people here never heard that term. You really expected them to say “fingering” on a police report? Do you also expect them to say something like “eating out” or “tossing the salad” or “used the shocker”?

  29. Mel
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    Last year at UCLA there was a guy who would go up to women walking near the campus and grab their breasts briefly before running away. Some students named him the “Westwood Booby Grabber” and thought it was hilarious (my roommate was laughing when she told me this and then didn’t understand why I was furious. Apparently, since there was no “real” physical trauma, it wasn’t serious.)

  30. Ariel
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 5:37 am | Permalink

    I didn’t expect them to say fingering on a police report. The way the police use it, it’s not a euphemism. The way students use it, it is.

  31. Ariel
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    At UC Berkeley, I interact with hundreds of students every day. Personal experience is my source.

  32. Pantheon
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Ah, yes, the “digital penetrator” nickname. I still wouldn’t call it a euphemism because again, it is accurate, unlike “the cuddler” (when it sounds like the guy actually was doing something more like digital penetration). But yeah it is sort of weird in that context. Still, I was responding to all the comments who didn’t even know what digital penetration meant and were surprised it was used on a police report, not to the original post about the on-campus nicknames.

  33. Darkmoon
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I find nothing “cute” about these nicknames but it emphasizes the depravity of our culture to categorize sexual assailants on a scale with “comedic” value.
    Toilet Humor is prevalent. The sad truth is, men are expected to laugh at fart jokes and sexist jokes. My husband laughs uncomfortably at a lot of them and he apologizes to me for it later…to which I tell him there’s no need, I know he isn’t a pig.
    Patriarchy has taught men to treat females as lesser beings and it hurts them as much as it hurts us. When men who know it’s wrong catch themselves in the middle of a sexist joke, you can tell. They suddenly look uncomfortable and their momentum slows down. They start thinking of their partner, daughters, mothers….it isn’t so hilarious when it could be someone they care about.
    Sadly, there aren’t enough men (or women, I might add) out there who have the social awareness to realize how damaging it truly is to brush off sexual assault as a joke. It takes something happening to them or someone they care about for them to become aware.

  34. Pantheon
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Then it might be good to make that clear. The way the original post was written, you have a link to an article when you mention the Berkeley case, and then in the next line you talk about the effects of news coverage. Nowhere do you say that you’re actually talking about stuff you’ve heard students say on campus– it sounds like you’re talking about the news coverage. Someone would have to follow that article and read the whole thing to figure out that they didn’t use the quoted monikers you give right after.
    In general, if you link to a source and then immediately use a quote that was not from that source, you should make it clear where that quote came from. You should always make it clear where your quotes come from even if you didn’t just link to some other source, but in that case its even more misleading. I know it probably wasn’t misleading on purpose, but that kind of thing happens a lot on this site– I think some of the writers need a basic refresher in journalism, citing your sources, and/or clearly conveying your meaning.
    I agree that calling this person “the digital penetrator” as a moniker in a newspaper, or even just as a moniker around campus, is weird and sounds like making light of the situation. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using “digital penetration” on a police report (as some commenters seem to be saying, not the original post).

  35. Pantheon
    Posted September 3, 2009 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    Also, this post doesn’t even say that you go to Berkeley. Not everyone on the internet knows you, and not even all habitual feministing readers know you go to Berkeley. As I tell my students, your meaning should be clear to someone who doesn’t know you and isn’t listening to you explain it after the fact. There’s nothing in this post to indicate that these quotes come from your personal experience rather than from the linked article.

  36. Napalm Nacey
    Posted September 4, 2009 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    I made the same noises about if someone ever tried to assault me, I’d hand them their ass. Horrible truth of the matter is that in the situation, you’re in a fugue state of fear, and you can. not. MOVE. Your brain turns off. All you want to do is live. I snapped out of it when my attacker tried to digitally enter me, I said no and backed away, and the coward he was, it was enough to stop him. Not all women are so lucky. Don’t think these women DIDN’T try to beat off their attackers, or hand them their asses. If only it worked that way, survivors wouldn’t be so scared day in and day out.
    The worst thing, the really terrifying thing, is knowing it could happen at any time. I guess what I’m trying to say is, “I’d beat his ass” can make victims/survivors feel like they didn’t fight hard enough, that it’s somehow their fault.

  37. HoyaGuy
    Posted September 9, 2009 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    We don’t really have fraternities at GU. Most are “honor fraternities.”

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