A dozen women have filed a class-action lawsuit against Liberty University, arguing that the evangelical higher education institution failed to adequately investigate credible claims of sexual assault properly.
Twelve unnamed women filed the lawsuit on Tuesday against the Lynchburg, Virginia-based university in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
The plaintiffs accuse Liberty officials of violating Title IX federal anti-discrimination law, namely failing to process sexual assault and harassment allegations properly.
“Liberty University has intentionally created a campus environment where sexual assaults and rapes are foreseeably more likely to occur than they would in the absence of Liberty’s policies,” claimed the lawsuit.
The complaint argued that Liberty created “an unsafe campus environment” by misusing its honor code, known as “The Liberty Way.” The code, among other things, prohibits extramarital sex, consuming alcohol or being at events where alcohol is served.
According to the lawsuit, the honor code fails to clarify if a woman who reports being sexually assaulted will be punished for violating the honor code if she admits, when reporting the alleged assault, to breaking other aspects of the code, such as drinking.
“Some students who were the victims of sexual violence, including Plaintiffs below, reported their assaults to the University through [resident advisors], and were urged to withdraw those reports because they involved admitted violations of the Liberty Way,” the lawsuit states.
“Those students, including certain of the Plaintiffs, were told that their reports would subject them to discipline that could include expulsion. They, apparently, did not qualify for the amnesty, though no explanation for why was given.”
The lawsuit documented the allegations of the 12 Jane Does, which involve incidents that span several years and include stalking and sexual assault incidents.
For example, according to the complaint, when Jane Doe 3 reported being assaulted by a male athlete while drunk at a party, the university investigation ignored key evidence against the athlete and dismissed her complaint against him.
The lawsuit asserts that the unnamed athlete continually harassed the plaintiff afterward, including filing a frivolous lawsuit, leading Jane Doe 3 to attempt suicide in 2017 and then drop out of Liberty in 2020.
According to the complaint, Jane Doe 7 was sexually assaulted in 2014 by a Liberty medical school student. However, she did not report the incident because she heard how other sexual assault victims who reported their attacks to the university were alleged to have been treated.
Jane Doe 10 alleged that she was raped in 2014 by a fellow student, with Liberty’s Student Conduct Office giving her no opportunity to present her case. Instead, the lawsuit claims the university forced her to apologize to her rapist for violating the honor code.
In response to the lawsuit, Liberty issued a statement stating that the allegations by the plaintiffs in the complaint are “deeply troubling, if they turn out to be true.”
“Many of the claims are the complete opposite of how the University’s policies and procedures were designed to operate over the years,” the school statement reads, as reported by local media outlet WSET ABC 13 News.
“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.”
The statement goes on to say that the University “has a robust non-discrimination policy, which includes an amnesty policy to encourage victims to make reports without fearing that their involvement in other activities like drinking alcohol or extramarital sex will be disciplined under the student honor code.”
"That policy includes a fair process for resolving disputes about rape, sexual harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation, as well as providing supportive measures as appropriate," the statement continues. "It would be heartbreaking if those efforts had the results claimed in this lawsuit."
“We will immediately look into each of these claims to determine what needs to be done to make things right, if they turn out to be true,” the statement concluded.
“Because the claims are made anonymously and go back many years, in one case over two decades, it will take some time to sort through.”