Dozens of women who attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, are coming forward with accusations that the faith-based school’s administrators did not take rape accusations seriously in recent years.
A damning new report published on Monday by journalist Hannah Dreyfus in ProPublica alleges that the Christian school’s administrators and staff made it “difficult or impossible” for students to report instances of sexual violence to the police.
This follows a July lawsuit in which 12 women similarly accused the school, founded by controversial Christian leader Jerry Falwell, Sr., of dissuading purported sexual assault victims from coming forward to report the alleged crimes against them.
The disturbing but important long-form report begins with the story of a woman named Elizabeth Axley, who recounts her ordeal with university administrators while trying to document and pursue justice after suffering an alleged 2017 sexual assault.
According to Axley, she was a freshman at the school in 2017 when she was raped at a Halloween party off-campus. After returning to her dorm, she called campus police, and an officer eventually drove her to a local hospital, where she was examined. A nurse there painstakingly documented 15 different bruises and other injuries to Axley’s arm, face, and torso — and even took detailed pictures of every injured part of her body to help with a follow-up investigation.
But when it came time for Liberty University to take control of the investigation, Axley discovered that the college had discarded those photos, rather than placing them in the appropriate file related to the case. WTF?!
Reflecting on how difficult the school made it to follow up on the rape allegations, Axley told ProPublica (below):
“I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. I had been relying on them all these months to take my evidence into account when considering my case, and it wasn’t even in my file.”
Even worse, after the alleged incident and the hospital visit, Axley returned to her dorm room and told her resident advisor about her ordeal. The RA, Axley said, allegedly offered to pray with her, and further “advised not to report the incident,” because drinking and fraternizing with the opposite sex is against school policy and she would likely get into trouble for doing so.
“I was really confused. They were making it seem like I had done something wrong.”
Eventually, Axley filed her own report on the incident with Liberty’s Title IX office, including photos of her injuries as well as texts from concerned friends on the night of the alleged attack. After an investigation, however, a school committed ruled that “by a preponderance of the evidence,” Axley’s alleged assailant was found “not responsible” for the rape, and the case was quashed.
As awful as Axley’s situation is, things apparently get much worse at Liberty. According to this ProPublica exposé, “about 50” former students and staffers confirmed that the school allegedly openly dissuaded students like Axley from reporting sexual assault accusations.
Among the allegations, women claim that school officials “did not sufficiently provide them with options” regarding how to contact police and file reports. Other women reported that school policy made it so that they were often targets for punishment after alleged sexual assaults, due to having been in what the university considered to be compromising positions with members of the opposite sex.
One woman, Adrianna Rice, told the outlet that after she was raped at Liberty in 2016, the school blurred the lines regarding police involvement:
“I was never informed that filing a police report was even an option. I felt like a gag order had been placed on me after I had already experienced a trauma.”
So scary. And also potentially illegal.
Rice claims one of Liberty’s Title IX office employees told her that reporting her rape could disrupt the school’s own investigation into the matter which, if true, appears to be a serious violation of federal law. According to Fox News, there is a federal law requiring that school administrators informs students that they have the option to report sexual assault and other allegations to law enforcement.
Even beyond the last few years, other women at Liberty University have allegedly consistently been dissuaded and pressured not to follow up on sexual assault allegations. One of the university’s former police officers, who later became an assistant dean at Liberty, told ProPublica about a case he remembered from more than 20 years ago (below):
“I got word that there had been an assault, but that the dean of women had convinced the girl not to press charges. That was par for the course at Liberty.”
It’s not just students that are allegedly being encouraged by Liberty to cover up these heinous controversies, either. A former communications professional and spokesman for the college, Scott Lamb, has simultaneously filed a federal lawsuit against the school after being fired for what he claims was raising concerns over the institution’s response to persistent sexual assault allegations and the ensuing media attention.
In a statement to Fox News, Liberty denied that Lamb’s termination had anything to do with his advice on addressing sexual assault allegation, claiming:
“Liberty University categorically denies Mr. Lamb’s claims that his termination was in any way the result of advice he had given on how the university should respond to the Jane Doe Title IX lawsuit. In reality, Mr. Lamb was terminated-with-cause as a result of a meeting about a recent review of the area under his management. Lamb’s lawsuit is a transparent effort to rebuild his own reputation by shamefully playing on the goodwill of supporters of sexual assault victims. We look forward to addressing his claims in court.”
Aside from Lamb, the school also commented (briefly) on the accusations regarding sexual assault reporting as published by ProPublica.
A spokesperson for the faith-based institution shared:
“ prefers not to issue public comment on litigation, but the university would like to affirm its commitment to take all allegations of sexual assault seriously and in accordance with the law.”
Of course, Liberty’s infamous and controversial former president Jerry Falwell Jr. (pictured above, inset), was forced to resign last year after his own disturbing sex scandal came to light.
His replacement, Jerry Prevo, held a prayer meeting at the school earlier this month, during which he instructed school officials to take sexual assault allegations “seriously.”
Prevo also told students:
“We want you to feel safe. We don’t want any sexual harassment or sexual abuse. I don’t, and I’ve told the department that deals with that, I said, ‘you take every complaint seriously, and you deal with it seriously.’”
Based on the allegations in this new ProPublica report, taking sexual assault allegations seriously would be a welcome change of pace for Liberty University, to say the least.
Here’s more in a Monday night follow-up on the report, in which Dreyfus herself speaks with news anchor Dan Abrams on NewsNation Now about the investigation (below):
Reactions, Perezcious readers?
More importantly, you can read the full ProPublica investigative report HERE. But be warned, as the piece contains disturbing descriptions of sexual violence.
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