Court Battles

Liberty University sued for allegedly failing to investigate student assault

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Liberty University is facing a lawsuit for allegedly failing to properly investigate rape allegations from a former student. 

A complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia says an unnamed Liberty student was “brutally raped and sexually assaulted” by a fellow Liberty classmate in an off-campus apartment building in April 2021.  

The former student who made the assault allegations said she promptly reported her abuse to the university. Her complaint claims Liberty failed “to provide accommodations for her emotional, physical, psychological suffering,” lawyers representing the plaintiff said.

They asserted that the school was in violation of Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination at institutions that receive federal funding.

“Despite their knowledge of the incident, Liberty failed to investigate the matter and did not take any action or protective measures in response. Instead, Liberty demonstrated systematic deliberate indifference, retaliated against the Plaintiff, and perpetuated a sexually hostile and dangerous environment on and around campus,” the complaint alleged. 

Court documents also asserted that the plaintiff was “forced out” of the private university in Lynchburg, Va., following her assault. 

“Liberty’s treatment of Jane Doe is emblematic of the kinds of institutional barriers that sexual assault survivors regularly face in getting justice,” Erika Jacobsen White, who is one of the attorneys representing the plaintiff, said.

“Instead of ensuring Jane Doe’s safety, Liberty engaged in classic victim-blaming, compounding her trauma,” the lawyer added.

In a statement obtained by The Hill, Liberty said it would not publicly comment on the case.

“The university has not reviewed the lawsuit and therefore declines to make a specific, public comment on the suit at this time. Liberty University will certainly address these claims in court,” the statement from a university spokesperson said.

Liberty has faced previous allegations of mishandling assault, including a ProPublica report that said students were discouraged from reporting sexual assault or dismissed if they chose to report incidents. It also said that some women were punished for violating the Virginia evangelical university’s code of conduct after reporting their rapes.

That report prompted lawmakers in November to push for the Department of Education to look into Liberty University’s handling of sexual assault claims. 

“Any campus policy that deters or discourages a survivor of sexual assault from speaking out and seeking justice is wrong,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) previously 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.”

Updated at 6:59 p.m.

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