MONDAY UPDATE: Rep. Polis himself answers some questions in the comment section below.
It’s been a hot topic for a couple of days now, as the Denver Post’s Elizabeth Hernandez reported late last week:
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis said Thursday that colleges should be able to use a lower standard of proof to expel students accused of sexual assaults on campus…
“If there are 10 people who have been accused, and under a reasonable likelihood standard maybe one or two did it, it seems better to get rid of all 10 people,” Polis said. “We’re not talking about depriving them of life or liberty, we’re talking about them being transferred to another university, for crying out loud.”
A private college, Polis also argued, may want to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard or lower threshold, such as a “likelihood standard.”
“If I was running one I might say, well you know, even if there is only a 20 or 30 percent chance that it happened, I would want to remove this individual,” he said.
The audience at the hearing applauded his stance at one point, but the remark drew a sharp reaction from critics.
“Sharp reaction” may be a bit of an understatement. The fierce debate over laws and due process rights in sexual assault cases has pitched wildly back and forth in recent years, as an increasing preponderance of evidence that rape is a huge problem on college campuses is pushed back on by a vocal and generally conservative “men’s rights” movement. Anecdotal events like questionable reporting by Rolling Stone about a rape case at the University of Virginia are misused to discredit a mountain of statistical data. New individual studies released on the subject are immediately attacked by a robust internet and popular media culture of self-reinforcing rape apologetics.
Into this fraught debate steps Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, who with his characteristic machete-through-red-tape attitude declares that a lower burden of proof may be sufficient in some cases for some schools, as he disclaimed it private schools. Polis Tweeted not long after, clarifying again that he wasn’t talking about a criminal burden of proof. Pundits from the Boulder Daily Camera to the Washington Post nonetheless have reacted more or less in rhetorical horror, warning of the loss of fundamental due process rights for the accused this would invite, and scoffing at the idea that having to change schools is a minor inconvenience for persons accused of rape.
For our part, we feel obliged to err on the side of sensitivity toward victims of sexual assault, recognizant of the struggles faced historically and today with a culture that tends to excuse or at least downplay this pervasive crime in too many cases. That means we’re not going to criticize Rep. Polis for making what we know many readers will believe is staking out controversial but necessary ground–in a debate that sorely needs better acknowledgement of what rape victims face seeking justice.
For those who are going to disagree, the comment section is open for you too.