Polis Walks Back Campus Rape Comments

Rep. Jared Polis.

Rep. Jared Polis.

As the Boulder Daily Camera’s Alex Burness reports, following up on a controversy we touched on over the weekend:

Congressman Jared Polis wrote in a column Tuesday that he “misspoke” last week when he suggested colleges should be able to expel students accused of sexual assault even if they’re innocent…

In a piece published online Tuesday by the Daily Camera and on Medium.com, Polis called his remarks “a major gaffe” that “went too far.”

But he did not apologize for arguing last week that colleges may be wise to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard — a lower threshold than criminal courts would use — in deciding whether to punish or expel a student.

For one, that practice is already in place. As Polis notes in his column, the Department of Education required four years ago that schools use a standard based on preponderance of evidence to rid campuses of alleged sexual assailants.

A little more from Rep. Polis’ column published today:

I committed a major gaffe during the back-and-forth exchange with a witness who was advocating for removing the authority of colleges to adjudicate sexual assault cases that happen on their campuses. My words did not convey my beliefs nor the policies I now or have ever supported

During that exchange I went too far by implying that I support expelling innocent students from college campuses, which is something neither I nor other advocates of justice for survivors of sexual assault support. That is not what I meant to say and I apologize for my poor choice of words…

To most people who don’t know much about this issue, it makes sense to solely adjudicate these cases in our criminal justice system, just like we do other crimes…this is a deeply dangerous idea that demonstrates a cursory and superficial understanding of the issue. Ask any sexual assault advocate and they’ll tell you the same thing.

As we noted last Sunday and Rep. Polis tried to clarify after his remarks became controversial late last week, at no point was he suggesting that a lower standard of proof be allowable for criminal convictions of rape. And as Polis makes clear in his column today, colleges already use a lower standard of proof than the strict “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required in criminal proceedings when investigating alleged sexual assaults. Polis explained that his statements were in response to a witness who asserted that law enforcement should handle all sexual assault investigations on campus, instead of the status quo allowing colleges to conduct investigations with a “preponderance of the evidence” standard of proof.

In the context of Rep. Polis arguing against requiring only the criminal “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard be used in sexual assault investigations, his remarks make a bit more sense, but in hindsight it does appear his remarks did more to confound the popular debate over responding to sexual assault allegations than to elucidate it (as he admitted in his apology). It’s just too easy for the criminal justice system’s protection of the rights of the accused to be invoked here, which of course makes Polis look pretty bad–unless you understand that a different standard already applies, and for good reasons. Nobody wants to see innocent people punished, but the issue is not so clear cut that you can say with confidence a strict criminal evidentiary standard is called for in all cases. Sometimes that’s just not what’s needed to get justice.

In the end, we think this episode is a good lesson in why word choice is very, very important.

13 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. DavieDavie says:

    The reporting and Jared's comments are still clear as mud to me.  It seems there was an either/or choice of only the local police handling it with hands off from the college, or just letting the college adjudicate it at the preponderance of evidence standard.

    I think it should be pretty clear that both tracks should be pursued in parallel with separate goals in mind.

    The criminal justice system determines if a serious crime has been committed and pursues prosecution and conviction with likely prison time.

    The college determines if their rules (not laws) have been violated and seeks to determine the matriculation eligibility of the student violator based on a preponderance of evidence.

    • BlueCatBlueCat says:

      Exactly.  Polis is creating a straw dog by insisting that this is an argument confined to the preponderance of evidence standard issue. That's an acceptable standard for taking action in the context of college rule violation. But while rape may be a college rule violation as well as a crime it certainly still is a crime.  No one would say murder should be handled only in house as a rule violation. So how does, in effect, exempting from criminal status a rape that takes place on campus and involves students make any sense?  Once again, we all saw how that worked when it was standard Catholic Church policy and it was quite right to insist on an end to that policy, to insist that sex crimes be reported to the police instead of just letting predator priests move on to another parish.  

      You can't have it both ways. Rape is either a serious crime or it's not and if it is the place for addressing it as a crime is in the criminal justice system. That doesn't prevent an immediate remedy in the form of of action taken by the college according to the preponderance of evidence standard. I don't think taking this view is something only a silly ignorant person who doesn't understand "the dangers'" would do. It’s certainly less dangerous than just making the accused rapist, on the basis of a preponderance of evidence, go to different school

  2. OrangeFreeOrangeFree says:

    There should be a new unspoken rule for politicians talking about rape – if you want to make a comment about rape, take a breath, compose yourself, and then promptly forget about making the comment. Just don't do it. 

  3. bullshit!bullshit! says:

    Jared was trying to do the right thing. He fucked up, but it's a shame the media can't get past the headline to what he was really trying to say.

    • BlueCatBlueCat says:

      Sorry. I disagree with what he was really trying to say as well as the "sorry I went too far" stuff. Just move rapists around Catholic Church style is not my idea of an intelligent solution. He's grasping for a good idea and failing to come up with anything very useful. 

  4. Republican 36 says:

    I was one of those critical of Congressman Polis in the previous thread but after reading his column and this thread I now understand the distinction he was trying to make and I believe all of us should accept his apology. I certainly do.

  5. Chickenheed says:

    When was the last time a Republican said "I apologize for my poor choice of words"? Good for Polis.

    • ModeratusModeratus says:

      None of you would be letting a Republican off the hook so easily and you know it.

      • BlueCatBlueCat says:

        Can't you read?  Plenty of us aren't letting him off the hook at all. He said he went too far which is more than we ever got out of righties with their occasional "if I offended anyone" non-apology apologies but noting that is a long way from letting him off any hooks. Most of us seem to disagree, not only with his proposing to kick innocents out of school to the tune of 80% to 90% of the accused. We also don't agree that sending rapists to another school and not involving the criminal justice system is a very bright idea. You certainly wouldn't be expressing anything like that about anything coming from a conservative Republican candidate. You just regurgitate whatever you think the party line is.

        I have no problem saying that I think that most of what Polis has said on this subject is idiotic and his apology doesn't change that opinion. With all the flack he's been getting for such an obviously outrageous kill 'em all and let the Lord sort it out style stance he pretty much had to apologize. He did. Not an occasion for any huge pats on the back IMHO. Even if that means I risk having a little turd like you agree with me.

  6. (((JADodd)))James Dodd says:

    I did not comment to the original post about Polis' statements during the committee hearing because I did not have enough time to review the context.  However, it sounded to me like he missed the point.  His column convinced me that I was correct when he stated:

    In my effort to defend this practice, I went too far, and I regret that my remarks have detracted from the substance of this debate and have reflected poorly on the good work being done by college offices across the country that investigate these cases, including two in my own backyard in Colorado (University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado State University).

    The real "problem" is that colleges and universities have been doing a lousy job of handling sexual assault claims.  If you doubt me, The Huffington Post has been compiling stories about this subject at Breaking the Silence.  It is not the "burden of proof" that is the problem.  It's the fact that colleges can't be trusted to properly investigate and adjudicate these issues.  Why does it take two sustained rape allegations to get a perpetrator expelled?  Fewer Than One-Third Of Campus Sexual Assault Cases Result In Expulsion  In case you don't have time to read the article, less than 1/3 of sustained sexual assault charges result in expulsion of the perpetrator.  WTF?

    Polis completely missed the real issue.  Then, we might expect him to do so since the real problem is the elite protecting the elite – that is it is his class that is the problem.

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