Liberty University is the subject of a horrifying ProPublica report in which multiple former students and one former administrator detail a culture of dismissal and denial around campus rape accusations. According to the report, women who come forward to report sexual assault are often shamed into silence, discouraged from going to police and even blamed for what happened to them. The damning stories threaten to bring another tidal wave of scrutiny to one of the nation’s largest and most influential Christian universities.
Three women who spoke to the ProPublica reporter said that when they reported being sexually assaulted, they were told to sign statements acknowledging that they may have violated the student code of conduct known as “the Liberty Way.” Others say that even campus police officers urged them to back off from pursuing charged against their attackers. One student reported her assault by a fellow student along with evidence including screenshots of texts from witnesses and photographs of violent bruises on her neck, chest and torso. She says those photos were ultimately omitted from her file and her attacker was found not guilty.
Another woman says she went to the counselor’s office with her mother to report her rape, stressing that it was an “emergency,” but was told there were no appointments available and sent away. Other women were not informed that going to the police was an option, as required by law.
“Historically, and based on the cases you presented to me, I do not believe Liberty has a conception of sexual assault that is consistent with criminal law, and certainly not with federal civil rights and campus safety,” S. Daniel Carter says in the piece. Carter helped write the laws around how universities handle sexual assault cases.
That all squares with the experience of Scott Lamb, who was Liberty University’s senior vice president of communications until recently. He says he was fired for raising concerns around the way Liberty was sweeping sexual assault cases under the rug, and say ProPublica’s emails to Liberty administration seeking comment were deliberately ignored. “Concerns about sexual assault would go up the chain and then die,” he told the reporter, calling it “a conspiracy of silence.”
Lamb says he and another colleague tried to convince the school to investigate the accusations. “We said, ‘Listen, the optics of this are killing us. Is there anything we can message — something? A message about empathy? Or that we’re at least working to get to the bottom of this?’ And then it dawned on us: They’re not working to get to the bottom of this.”
Lamb is filing a lawsuit about his firing. Liberty is also facing a lawsuit from a dozen unnamed former students over what they say is a pattern of discouragement, dismissal and denial when it came to their assaults, including “public and repeated retaliation against women who did report their victimization.”
Last year, Liberty parted ways with its longtime president Jerry Falwell Jr., the son of the school’s founder, following myriad personal scandals, allegations and one infamous vacation photo. Falwell has been replaces by Jerry Prevo but, as the article shows, the school’s woes have outlasted Falwell’s leadership.
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