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Published: Friday, 2/23/2007

Poor subject for satire

FREEDOM of speech, the courts have long held, doesn't involve the right to shout "fire!" in a crowded theater. A columnist at the Recorder, the student newspaper at Central Connecticut State University, didn't quite do that, but he wrote something so tasteless it caused campus-wide protests and proved that he has no idea what the First Amendment is supposed to mean.

John Petroski, the Recorder's opinion page editor, embarrassed himself and angered and hurt students, especially those who have been victims of any sexual abuse, with his highly insensitive column, "Rape Only Hurts if You Fight It."

Among other tasteless comments, the column tried to outline the so-called "benefits" of rape and called it a "magical experience" that has been a blessing to "ugly women."

Supposedly the idea was to parody the sensationalistic nature of much of the modern news media.

Nothing wrong with that, but there was everything wrong with the way he did it. Rape is a horrific and emotionally devastating crime.

The Recorder's student editors now say they regret the harm they have caused, and say they wouldn't have published the column if they could have anticipated the reaction.

What they still don't seem to get is the degree to which rape intensely violates a person, making it a poor subject for satire. Parents who have daughters on the CCSU campus may well be concerned.

Student victims of sexual assault have a right to feel safe on campus, but they may now legitimately be worried when the article, as one student said, "gives people the idea that rape victims are somehow asking for it."

Central Connecticut's president, Jack Miller, does get it. He correctly maintains that the column crossed the lines of journalistic freedom, and said that even in satire, it is abhorrent to make light of rape, adding that "hateful speech is not protected and simply is not worthy, on any ground, of publication."

Unfortunately, the column is already in print. But there may be a silver lining to this embarrassment if it results in these student editors finally realizing something about the devastating effect sexual violation has on its victims.

They might even come to understand that rape is a terrible crime.

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