Paradigms and Principles: Offensive Arguments

This week I would like to discuss the following question:
A. At what point is it appropriate to drop a debater for making an offensive argument rather than simply tanking their speaker points?

It’s difficult to go through an entire round on this topic without hearing an argument that is offensive or at least insensitive. That’s not terribly surprising – I have also found that in constructing arguments it is difficult to know what would cross the line or what might be hurtful to a debater or judge whose life has been affected by domestic violence.

This last weekend at VBT I judged a debater who argued that “The domestic violence is repeated, so it’s obviously not that bad,” and “they can just easily leave.” I doubt these comments were purposely insensitive, so I didn’t think it was appropriate to drop him on face. I did drop his speaker points to 23, though he still won the round. I explained the points after the round and why his comments were at least framed inappropriately, and he seemed receptive. All this got me to thinking about when it is appropriate to simply penalize offensive comments with speaker points versus using a more substantial sanction like dropping the debater. On the one hand it seems absurd to give a Win 23, and if comments are potentially hurtful to other debaters, spectators, and judges then it seems a meaningful penalty is warranted. On the other hand, where comments aren’t malicious, a less severe sanction (like dropping speaker points) may be sufficient to a) open the door for a conversation with the student about their remarks and b) notify their coach so that he or she can address the situation as well. Some would even argue that the judge should disregard such a comment unless a discourse argument is raised by the opposing debater.

So, at what point should a judge decide that an argument is so offensive that the debater should receive a loss for it? Obviously there are many contextual factors to consider – which do you feel are most important for judges to think about?