Christian Education

Lawsuit claims Liberty University mishandled sexual assaults

Placeholder while loading article actions

At a time when Liberty University is already under scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault reports, a former student has come forward alleging the school failed to investigate her rape complaint — and got revenge on her for reporting it.

The lawsuit claims the school has a history of weaponizing students’ code of conduct against victims of sexual assault by tricking them into fearing that reporting an incident would get them in trouble for breaking school rules. campus.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia on Wednesday afternoon, alleges the anonymous plaintiff was locked in her bedroom, raped and sexually assaulted by a classmate in April of last year. The lawsuit claims the university failed to investigate, take action or take protective action, and launched an investigation into whether the plaintiff, then a junior at Liberty, violated the school’s code of conduct.

The university’s actions violated federal Title IX law. prohibiting gender discrimination in schools that receive federal funding, according to the lawsuit.

A university spokesperson said in an email: “The university has not reviewed the lawsuit and therefore declines to make specific public comment on the lawsuit at this time. Liberty University will certainly address these claims. before the courts.

Lawyers for the plaintiff said they hope the lawsuit will force changes that will make the campus safer.

“Instead of keeping Jane Doe safe, Liberty indulged in classic victim blaming, compounding her trauma,” said Erika Jacobsen White, one of the attorneys.

Liberty, a private university in Lynchburg, Virginia, has been a powerful center for evangelical and conservative Christians, a place of national reputation and considerable political influence.

Jerry Falwell Jr. resigns and will receive $10.5 million in compensation

Last year, the university faced complaints about its policies.

In July, 12 women filed a lawsuit against Liberty, claiming the school not only failed to help them after they reported sexual assault or sexual misconduct, but made the university more dangerous through its responses. One of the anonymous complainants claimed in this complaint that at the time of her assault, when she was 15, she was warned by campus police that she would be criminally charged with filing a false report – and later learned that her attacker pleaded guilty in 2016 to the kidnapping and murder of two Virginia college students.

At the time, Liberty officials said the allegations were “deeply troubling, if true,” and wrote that they had invested in staff and programs to help victims of sexual assault and had an amnesty provision to encourage students to report. without fear of disciplinary repercussions.

Lawsuit claims Liberty University mishandled sexual assault complaints

Liberty President Jerry Prevo told the campus community this fall that “Liberty University will not tolerate Title IX violations, sexual abuse, or sexual assault in any form at any time.” . He also wrote in his message to campus, “The Liberty Way should never be misused to cover up wrongdoing.”

It is also true, he writes, that the Christian university remains committed to cultivating a campus culture “that honors the Word of God and embraces God’s principles for life.” While “The Liberty Way” should never be used to discourage victims from reporting wrongdoing, we also believe that we do not have to choose between adopting our code of conduct as a Christian university and meeting our legal obligations. under Title IX. We can do both at the same time and we will.

In November, university administrators voted unanimously to have an independent review of Title IX policies, and Prevo announced changes to make the campus safer, including security cameras and blue light boxes for emergencies. Later that month, Virginia senators called for a federal investigation into the university’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints.

This week, Drew LaFramboise, an attorney for the new plaintiff, said, “Liberty has knowingly created and fostered a culture where sexual violence is ignored or swept under the rug, and far too many students have suffered as a result.

According to the complaint, the complainant tried to escape her attacker through a window, tried to push him away and texted a friend for help. She went to the hospital hours after the rape and filed a police report, according to the lawsuit, and several days later asked professors for academic extensions during finals.

The lawsuit argues that university officials did not provide academic housing this semester or notify the campus community of the assault.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education said the federal student aid office, which administers the Clery Act that requires universities to report crimes, “does not comment on institutional surveillance activities, student reviews, programs or investigations – including acknowledgment of their existence – until the outcome has been officially communicated to the institution.

University officials asked the plaintiff if she violated campus rules, known as “The Liberty Way,” by attending social events where alcohol was consumed, according to the lawsuit. The assault took place after a party in the pool and common area of ​​an apartment building, according to the complaint. The code of conduct prohibits “sexual immorality” and “inappropriate personal contact”.

How Jerry Falwell Jr. Silences Students and Professors Who Reject His Politics

The lawsuit filed Wednesday brings Title IX claims, negligence claims and disability discrimination claims against the defendants: Liberty, the alleged abuser, and several companies that owned, managed or operated the building.

The plaintiff was placed on academic probation in August, according to the lawsuit. The university did not investigate the incident that fall, according to the complaint, but in December it informed the complainant that she was on academic suspension.

She submitted paperwork in an attempt to appeal the decision, writing that the previous spring ‘I couldn’t go to school because I was afraid of running into’ the other student.

She enrolled at another university, according to the lawsuit, to complete her college degree.

Razzan Nakhlawi contributed to this report.