Senators urging federal investigation into Liberty University's handling of sexual assault claims

Senators urging federal investigation into Liberty University's handling of sexual assault claims
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Lawmakers are asking the Department of Education to look into Liberty University's handling of sexual assault claims. 

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael Kaine​​Democrats make voting rights push ahead of Senate consideration Sunday shows - Voting rights legislation dominates Kaine says core of spending bill will pass but most of it is 'dead' MORE (D-Va.) and Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerWe are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two Senate Judiciary Committee to debate key antitrust bill MORE (D-Va.) were among the lawmakers who called for an investigation into how the school in their state handles instances of sexual abuse.

"Any campus policy that deters or discourages a survivor of sexual assault from speaking out and seeking justice is wrong," Kaine said in a statement to The Hill. "Students who bravely speak out deserve to be heard and to have their claims taken seriously. My office is urging the Department of Education to investigate these claims against Liberty and take appropriate action."

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Warner also said that the university should “act immediately to remedy the issues alleged” and urged the Department of Education to “look into Liberty’s procedures,” according to ProPublica.

On Friday, Liberty's board of trustees voted to open "an independent and comprehensive review of its Title IX policies and processes," according to a release from the board.

A spokesperson for the school said in a statement to The Hill that "the university is conducting an independent review of its processes to determine if any policies or procedures need to be modified."

"The university extends an invitation to Virginia Senators’ Kaine and Warner to visit the campus when it’s convenient to discuss their concerns with our executive leadership. We hope the Senators’ comments do not represent an unhelpful politicization of such a serious issue,” the spokesperson added. 

The announcement from the school and the senators' demands come after ProPublica reported last month that students were discouraged from reporting sexual assault or dismissed if they chose to report incidents.

Specifically, some women who reported rapes were told they could be punished for violating the Virginia evangelical university's code of conduct. Liberty University police officers discouraged others from pressing sexual assault charges, ProPublica reported.

Outside Virginia, ProPublica added that Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyOn the Money — Inflation hits highest level in decades Pressures aligning on Biden, Democrats to forgive student loans Senate Democrats grow less confident in Manchin MORE (D-Pa.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCDC leader faces precarious political moment Schumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE (D-Wash.) have also criticized the school for failing to ensure students’ rights to a safe campus community.

“Institutions of higher education should be places where students can learn and grow without fear, but for too long, sexual violence has been a tragic and harsh reality on college campuses throughout the country,” Casey said in a statement to The Hill. 

“The revelations out of Liberty University are disturbing and must be investigated," Casey also said, adding the "Department of Education should open a Title IX investigation" into the matter. 

As a recipient of almost $800 million per year in federal funding, Liberty is required to properly handle sexual assault claims and Title IX violations, ProPublica noted.

The Hill has reached out to Warner and Murray for comment. 

— Updated at 6:08 p.m.