Lawsuit: Liberty University Punished Students Who Said They Were Raped

12 Women Sue Evangelical Christian School for Allegedly Silencing Complaints About Sexual Assaults

Liberty University
Liberty University. (Photo: Flickr CC/Taber Andrew Bain)

Twelve anonymous women have filed a lawsuit against Liberty University for “enabling on-campus rapes” and creating an environment that made formally complaining about their sexual assaults more difficult. The suit specifically accuses the university of weaponizing the school’s honor code—the Liberty Way—as a means to keep victims silent.

In a statement, officials at the Lynchburg, Va., school called the sexual assault allegations “deeply troubling, if they turn out to be true.”

The attorney for the 12 “Jane Does,” Jack Larkin, pointed out that the women are not filing this suit for financial compensation, and instead want to see institutional changes.

“I can tell you that of the plaintiffs I am working with, many of them have strong attachments to the university and its mission,” Larkin said in an interview with ABC13. “Their goal is not to destroy Liberty University, their goal is to seek a measure of justice for themselves and to ensure there are no future victims.”

“What the goal is at the end of this case would be to find a way to help Liberty University implement policies and procedures for their Title IX office that are going to keep the campus safe and healthy moving forward,” he added. The women, a mix of former students and employees, allege that Liberty violated Title IX’s stipulations.

Some of the women say that instead of implicating their perpetrators when they reported their assaults, the women were told that they had violated the Liberty Way. The school’s honor code prohibits drinking and extramarital sex, and requires dressing “modestly and appropriately at all times.” Code violations are punishable by fines, “points” marked against them, community service, and expulsion.

Christianity Today reports that Jane Doe #12 claims she was assaulted by a man named Jesse Matthew in 2000 when she was 15 and attending a camp hosted on Liberty’s campus. When she called university police to report the assault, they accused her of fabricating the story. Campus police allegedly told her she could be “expelled from the camp because she was wearing pants in an academic building, which was at the time a violation of the Liberty Way,” if she refused to drop her accusations against Matthew, according to ABC13.

Doe #5 alleges that when she got pregnant after consensual sex with her boyfriend, the school’s dean threatened her with expulsion if she did not marry him.

When Doe #6 started counseling through the university after her boyfriend drugged and raped her, the school’s administration fined her $500 for drinking.

Multiple women allege that the university retaliated against them for complaining about their assaults. Doe #10 reported having been forced to apologize to her roommates “for her violation of the Liberty Way” after she told them she was raped by her boyfriend.

CNN reports that Liberty intends to fully look into the allegations.

“Many of the claims are the complete opposite of how the university’s policies and procedures were designed to operate over the years,” the Evangelical Christian school said in a statement to the network. “Liberty has invested mightily in programs and personnel to help maintain a safe campus and to support any and all victims of sexual assault who came forward.”

Liberty University made headlines last year when former president Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned amid a flurry of accusations of improprieties, and again in recent weeks when the university’s former diversity officer sued the school after being fired. A well-known conservative Evangelical Christian stronghold, Liberty was founded in 1971 and enrolls over 100,000 students, according to its website.

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    Written by Evana D. Upshaw

    Evana D. Upshaw is Faithfully Magazine's 2021 Editorial Fellow and a junior journalism student at Biola University. Evana loves discussing the Christian church's role in social justice, learning about how history has shaped our world, and telling stories. Evana currently lives in Baltimore with her mom, dad, and two younger brothers. You can find her on Twitter @EvanaUpshaw.

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