On Tuesday, a lawsuit was filed against Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Twelve women claim that the campus culture is hostile and that it is so because of the school’s policies.
Liberty has said that it will investigate the claims to determine what needs to be done if indeed the claims are true. Liberty University is an evangelical Christian school founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. and Elmer L. Towns and attended by thousands of students both online and in person. There is no doubt that claims of an unfit and hostile campus culture could be damaging to the school’s reputation.
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The women have chosen to remain anonymous, but include former employees as well as students. The women, identified as “Jane Does 1-12” have claimed that the way Liberty’s policies and procedures were set up were discouraging to people who might want to file a claim of rape or sexual abuse. According to Christianity Today, iit was “difficult or impossible” for students to report sexual violence. The lawsuit also says that “Liberty was aware that [the] “policies and procedures, as written and implemented, were enabling on-campus rapes.”
There are several examples of what the women making the claims against Liberty University had to endure. Some were assaulted by student athletes. Some, who were employees, faced sexual harassment and assault from a supervisor. One woman, Jane Doe 12, details that she was held down and groped by her assailant. When she went to the Liberty University Police Department, she was made to ride in the same car as the perpetrator. The police allegedly told her that she needed to withdraw her accusations or she would be charged with filing a false report, Her story is likely similar to that of the other women.
So what kind of policies does Liberty University have in place? Well, the Liberty Way, the school’s honor code, is supposed to give guidance to students on their behavior. It addresses topics such as how students should dress and what type of entertainment they should participate in. The Liberty Way also does not permit sexual relations outside of a” biblically ordained marriage” The code also prohibits sexual harassment, discrimination and assault.
The Jane Does and their legal representation feel that the Liberty Way has been hijacked and not used as it is supposed to be used. They believe that the student athletes and other offenders have gotten away with the sexually-motivated behaviors, while the women have lived for years with the painful memories of their assaults and their attempts to report the detrimental behaviors.
The amount of damages sought by the complainants is undisclosed. Meanwhile, Liberty University says that the allegations against the University are “deeply troubling” and they say that the Liberty Way honor code was not designed to work against women. The University plans to investigate the claims, but admits it will be difficult since the claims go back 20 years.
No matter how far the claims go back, the hope among everyone involved is that they get to the bottom of these allegations. The 12 women are seeking to be heard and believed. And Liberty certainly must want to find out what happened and make improvements in their policies and procedures so that these behaviors don’t continue among its students. The University does not want to be identified as having a hostile campus. Instead, it wants to be known for its Christian-based education and the positive morals and values it tries to instill in its students.
For the sake of all involved, may there be a thoughtful, swift and just resolution to this situation.
Written by Sharon S. Johnson