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U.S. Government Uncovers ‘Culture of Fear’ For Sexual Violence Survivors at Liberty University

U.S. Government Uncovers ‘Culture of Fear’ For Sexual Violence Survivors at Liberty University

Liberty University, the largest Christian college in the world, has been accused of fostering a culture of fear and silence around reporting sexual violence within its campus community, according to a preliminary report from the Department of Education obtained by USA TODAY.

The report sheds light on distressing conditions that survivors of sexual assault allegedly faced within the institution.

“Victims of sexual assault felt dissuaded by Liberty administration’s reputation for punishing sexual assault survivors rather than helping them,” the report read.

This revelation comes after years of mounting public pressure on the university over policies that survivors claim enable unchecked sexual violence.

In a significant development, the report indicates that allegations of violence were not limited to lower ranks but reached all the way to the top, including accusations involving a former university president and a senior administrator.

Survivors took legal action in 2021, filing a lawsuit against Liberty, accusing the institution of ignoring their reports while enforcing a code of conduct known as the “Liberty Way.” In 2022, a dozen women settled with the university in a confidential agreement.

The Department of Education’s ongoing investigation focuses on whether Liberty University complied with the Clery Act, a federal law mandating the reporting of crimes occurring on campus. However, the latest report introduces new details about the university’s attempts to cover up its tracks.

Education Department investigators uncovered senior officials in Liberty’s human resources department allegedly sought assistance from IT staff to wipe certain computer hard drives in April 2022, coinciding with the review team’s first visit to the campus. This act occurred shortly after investigators had discussed the importance of maintaining records with the university’s executive vice president of human resources.

“It does not appear that any institution-wide record retention program has ever existed at Liberty with respect to its campus security operations, although some individual officers did establish their own guidelines for their operations,” the report read. “Similarly, the university has been unable to provide the basic documentation to substantiate the accuracy and completeness of the university’s campus crime statistics.”

Additionally, a 2016 incident involving the discovery of incident reports scheduled for shredding raised concerns about data transparency and accountability. Despite reporting the incident to the Liberty University Police Department, a supervisor directed the officer to return to service, leaving the fate of these records uncertain.

Liberty University responded to the allegations by stating that it had improved its processes for complying with federal requirements and had challenged the Department’s preliminary findings, citing significant errors and misstatements.

“Liberty University remains fully committed to ensuring compliance in this area is met and maintained and understands the purpose of this review process is ultimately in the greater interest of our students, faculty, and staff,” said Liberty President Dondi Costin. “More than that, we recognize the original purpose of the Clery Act is for the health, safety, and overall well-being of our entire University community as we remain steadfast in our mission of Training Champions for Christ.”

The Department of Education’s final findings, which could result in fines and federal monitoring, have yet to be determined. However, investigators noted in the preliminary report that “multiple victims reported to the review team that they felt that the reporting process at Liberty further complicated an already difficult time in their lives and that they would have been better off if they had not reported these crimes in the first place.”

The May report from the Department of Education listed 12 findings, including a lack of administrative capability, inaccurate policy disclosures, and a failure to issue timely warnings related to the Clery Act. The investigation also revealed that Liberty University failed to report dozens of criminal offenses, including rape, domestic violence and stalking, from 2016 to 2020. Victims said they often refrained from speaking out due to fear of reprisals.

Founded in 1971 by televangelist Jerry Falwell, the university’s recent growth has been driven by online enrollment, with a combined student body of approximately 93,000 and substantial federal funding of about $857 million for student aid.

This is the latest in a series of scandals rocking Liberty in recent years. Former president Jerry Falwell Jr., who took over leadership after his father’s death in 2007, resigned in 2020 following a sex scandal involving him, his wife and a former pool boy.

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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