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12 women file lawsuit against Liberty University, claiming failures of Title IX office

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 4:16 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - A new lawsuit aimed at Liberty University claims the Lynchburg-based school made serious errors in its handling of harassments, sexual assault, rapes and pregnancies of students and employees of the university.

The complaint (below), filed in the Eastern District of New York, includes the testimony of 12 plaintiffs. The majority of the plaintiffs identified as students of Liberty University, with some alleging wrongdoings as far back as 2005. Others were employees of Liberty University.

The lawsuit claims Liberty University created an unsafe campus environment, saying it “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.”

It takes aim at Liberty’s past and present versions of its honor code, The Liberty Way (below), claiming it and the university’s sexual violence reporting policies were weaponized.

The complaint includes testimony from each of the 12 Jane Does, none of whom are named in the report.

One such testimony alleges that after becoming pregnant, one student was told to marry the baby’s father to avoid expulsion. The complaint makes note that her boyfriend wanted to propose romantically on a hike, but leaders at the school refused the proposal and demanded they agree to be married immediately. After doing so, the complaint alleges she was prevented from living on campus and then barred from breast feeding or pumping on campus until after making demands for months. It also claims the University never identified policies explaining some of its requirements.

Another Jane Doe claimed that after coming out as a lesbian, an RA encouraged her to repent and become straight, this after “overt and systemic hostility towards homosexuality.” This Jane Doe then claimed a man she began dating served her a date rape drug while drinking. It goes on to say this Jane Doe was offered counseling by the school but was instead confronted by Liberty University officials for drinking and fined $500, saying she would not receive a copy of her transcript until she paid.

Another Jane Doe claimed she was attacked by a man later identified as Jesse Matthew while attending a summer debate camp at Liberty University when she was 15. (Matthew pleaded guilty in 2016 to the murders of Virginia Tech student, Morgan Harrington, and University of Virginia student, Hannah Graham. He also made an Alford plea to sexual assault in Fairfax County.) The Jane Doe alleges missteps by the Liberty University Police Department, which she said suggested she was approached for sex because of of her pants. According to the document, wearing pants in an academic building was a violation of the Liberty Way at the time of the alleged incident. This Jane Doe also alleged police denied her request to be transferred to a hospital for the collection of forensic evidence, and instead badgered her into agreeing to be photographed naked by a female debate coach.

Several students claim cases of sexual assault and rape by male students. The lawsuit states, “Multiple witnesses who worked in the student conduct office have alleged that the University has a tacit policy of weighting investigations in favor of accused male students such that denials of sexual misconduct by male students would regularly be accepted over allegations by female victims, including where the victim brought additional evidence to support her claim like photographs of bruising or text messages from the accused admitting to assault.”

Many of the Jane Does claim investigations into their cases by the Title IX office were not initiated or were dropped. Several of the Jane Doe students reported dropping out of Liberty University and at least two reported having suicidal thoughts or attempting suicide. More than one Jane Doe reports making notifications to campus leaders, such as Jonathan Falwell, with no follow-up.

Some of the students who were victims of sexual violence, including some plaintiffs, say they reported their assaults to LU through RAs and were urged to withdraw those reports because they involved admitted violations of the Liberty Way.

The report also notes some of the plaintiffs declined to report assaults against them because of stories they had heard from other victims and witnesses about how LU punished victims of sexual violence.

WDBJ7 reached out to Liberty University Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Engagement, Scott Lamb, requesting a representative willing to comment on this lawsuit or a prepared statement in response.

Lamb responded Tuesday afternoon with the following emailed response:

The allegations in the Jane Doe 1-12 v. Liberty University lawsuit 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. 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 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. 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. 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.”

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