BROOKLYN, N.Y. (BP) – A dozen women filed suit against Liberty University claiming the university “intentionally created a campus environment where sexual assault and rapes are foreseeably more likely to occur than they would in the absence of Liberty’s policies.” The student conduct policy in question is known as “The Liberty Way.”
Filed Tuesday (July 20) in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of New York, the suit alleges the university created an “unsafe campus environment in three key ways: (a) the creation and weaponization of a student honor code called ‘The Liberty Way’ that makes it difficult or impossible for students to report sexual violence; (b) the promotion of a tacit but widely observed policy that condoned sexual violence, especially by male student athletes; and (c) the public and repeated retaliation against women who did report their victimization.”
The women, all of whom claim The Liberty Way was weaponized against them, allege “discrimination against women victims in favor of male assailants.” They also allege the university created a “sexually hostile environment” for women on campus.
The Liberty Way instructs students, faculty and staff of Liberty University “to uphold the moral and ethical standards” of the institution and “personally confront those who do not.” Those standards include the prohibition of “non-consensual sexual intercourse, non-consensual sexual contact, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking” as well as “sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman.”
The lawsuit was filed in the wake of the resignation of former president Jerry Falwell Jr. and the recent publication of season three of the popular Gangster Capitalism podcast. The Peabody-nominated podcast focused on Falwell’s leadership of the university and “spoke with more than 80 former and current Liberty students, faculty, staff, high-ranking administrators, and those with intimate knowledge of Falwell Jr.” Several plaintiffs of the lawsuit told their stories on the podcast.
The plaintiffs, each of whom details her specific complaints in the lawsuit, claim seven counts against the university:
- Pre-assault deliberate indifference/hostile environment
- Post-assault deliberate indifference
- Hostile environment
- Pregnant and parenting deliberate indifference/hostile environment
- Negligence (non-Title IX)
- A charge in connection with the naked photographs taken of Jane Doe 12
The university issued a statement in response to the lawsuit saying:
“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.”
The lawsuit, as well as a copy of The Liberty Way, can be read in full here.