Liberty University threatened to punish students who came forward with reports of being raped for violating the school’s code of conduct, according to a new report published Monday by ProPublica.
ProPublica spoke to more than 50 former students and staffers at Liberty University and reviewed records from more than a dozen cases, which accused the school of discouraging and dismissing students who came forward with allegations of rape, reporting that in some cases they said they were threatened with punishment for breaking the school’s moral code, known as the Liberty Way.
Three students who spoke to ProPublica said they were asked to sign forms upon reporting their rape incidents recognizing that they could be penalized for breaking the school’s ethics code. Potential infractions at the evangelical university included underage drinking and premarital sex.
Two former students told the news outlet that they were penalized after reporting their assaults: one said she was fined $500 for alcohol consumption and was ordered to attend counseling. She said she was required to pay the fine or else she would not receive her transcript.
Other students who said they were raped and spoke with the news outlet said they were advised to not report their incident, and some students claimed that university police officers dissuaded them from filing charges.
A number of students told ProPublica that they spoke to staff members about their assaults but the university faculty ultimately remained silent, despite being legally required to report the conversations to the Title IX office.
Additionally, when some students attempted to report being raped, they were not told they had the option of going to the police with their claims, which is reportedly required by the Clery Act.
Chelsea Andrews, a former Liberty student who says she was assaulted by a grad student at the university, told ProPublica that she did not come forward with her allegations because “I knew I would face the blame for putting myself in that situation.”
The ProPublica report also accuses Liberty University of misrepresenting rape incidents in case records. Elizabeth Axley, a Liberty University student who says she was raped at a party in 2017, told the news outlet that photos she took of her bruised body after her assault were removed from her case file because they were too “explicit.”
After resubmitting the photos the committee reviewing her case, she said they had determined that her alleged rapist was “not responsible” for the assault because of a “preponderance of the evidence.”
Additionally, Logan Pratt, a friend of Axley who witnesses interactions between Axley and her alleged assailant, said Liberty University misinterpreted his testimony by making it seem like his details undercut Axley’s memory instead of bolstering it.
ProPublica’s report is not the first time former students have sounded the alarm regarding rape and reporting culture at Liberty University.
A dozen anonymous former students filed a lawsuit in July against the university alleging that the school did not help sexual assault victims, and contended that the Liberty Way ethics code increased the possibility of assault taking place on campus by making it “difficult or impossible” to report instances of sexual violence, according to ProPublica.
The lawsuit also argues that the “public and repeated retaliation against women who did report their victimization” made for a dangerous campus environment.
Scott Lamb, the former senior vice president of communications at Liberty University, is now going public with details on how Liberty manages sexual assault cases.
He told ProPublica that the school engaged in a “conspiracy of silence” when it came to reports of sexual assault on campus.
Lamb was fired from his job earlier this month after sounding the alarm internally about the school’s inability to answer concerns regarding sexual assault.
“Concerns about sexual assault would go up the chain and then die,” the former communications aide told ProPublica.
Lamb is now suing the university, contending that he was fired for blowing the whistle regarding the school’s actions, or lack thereof, when it came to sexual assault.
The Hill reached out to Liberty University for comment on ProPublica's report.