One woman says she was assaulted as a teen by a former Liberty University student who would later be convicted of murder. Two others allege a pattern of sexual harassment at work. Yet another says the college did little when she reported being brutally gang raped.
The women are among 12 former Liberty University students and employees now suing the institution, saying Liberty created an unsafe environment, “enabling on-campus rapes.” The suit, filed Tuesday in a federal court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that Liberty University intentionally did not protect sexual assault victims.
The university did so, the suit alleges, by weaponizing the student honor code — the “Liberty Way” — to make reporting sexual violence difficult or impossible.
University policy also condoned sexual violence, particularly by male student athletes, according to the lawsuit. The suit added that the school retaliated publicly and repeatedly against women who reported being violated.
A Liberty spokesman didn’t reply when El Informe Roys asked for comment about the allegations. A statement was emailed after this report was published. “The allegations in the Jane Doe 1-12 v. Liberty University lawsuit are deeply troubling, if they turn out to be true,” according to the statement. “Many of the claims are the complete opposite of how the University’s policies and procedures were designed to operate over the years.” (The full statement is appended at the end of this article.)
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Questioning the victim
One student who attended Liberty from 2018-2019 alleges she was assaulted at a Liberty University summer camp in 2000, when she was 15 years old.
She called campus police. Then they held her for eight hours, interrogating her, accusing her of lying, denying her a chance to consult an attorney and forcing her to be photographed naked — without her mother’s consent — even where there was no visible bruising or injury.
According to the suit, “Jane Doe 12” worries that the “comprehensive” photographs “were trafficked by the police” to Jerry Falwell Jr., then one of Liberty’s top administrators, and possibly others.
After police released her, the teen learned from several friends that the same man who assaulted her had solicited sex from them, too. He was Jesse Matthew, a Liberty University football player. Her friends hadn’t reported him because they were afraid they’d be kicked out of the camp based on their clothing, according to the suit.
She told campus police, but officers never contacted her friends, the suit says.
Matthew left Liberty when he was accused of raping a fellow student two years later. He was later convicto in the murders of two college students in 2005 and 2009.
Basis of the suit
The 12 women are suing the university under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational settings. Sex offenses can be considered impermissible gender discrimination under the statute, according to the lawsuit.
The women say the university didn’t tell them about their rights under Title IX and threatened to discipline or expel them if they pressed those rights.
The suit was filed in New York, rather than Virginia where Liberty is located, because New York’s laws regarding sexual violence are different and the statute of limitations is longer than in Virginia, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney. He argues in the suit that the New York court has jurisdiction because Liberty does business in New York through its online education.
The ‘Liberty Way’
The student honor code at Liberty, called the “Liberty Way,” prohibits all sexual conduct outside of marriage. And according to the lawsuit, the Liberty Way was used by Liberty as a weapon to punish women who reported assault.
Students who violate the code in minor ways are subject to demerit points, monetary fines, or mandatory community service. Major violations, like spending the night with someone of the opposite sex, can result in expulsion.
Women who reported being assaulted weren’t explicitly shielded from sanctions when reporting an assault, the lawsuit alleges. Instead, these women were sometimes required to submit to “accountability measures” for code violations. They also could be asked to take part in “development opportunities or educational services.”
It wasn’t until 2018 that the university explicitly stated it wouldn’t discipline a student for related violations of the honor code if they were making a Title IX report, the suit says. However, the amnesty was offered just for minor violations and students could still be required to submit to “education.”
But some students who reported sexual violence weren’t offered even these minimal protections, the lawsuit states.
Some of the plaintiffs in the suit said that when they reported being assaulted, they were urged to withdraw their reports because of their own violations of the “Liberty Way.” Those who did go forward with a report, the suit says, were sometimes disciplined and fined, despite the university’s policies.
Favoring male students
The lawsuit also cites multiple witnesses who said the university’s unwritten policy was to favor accused male students over victims. Men’s denials of sexual misconduct would be taken at face value, the suit alleges — even when a female student presented evidence to back up her accusation.
Photos of bruises, or text messages in which an accused male student admitted to an assault, weren’t enough to overcome the word of the accused, the suit states. And in “humiliating” investigations, some women were assumed to have consented to sex unless they could prove otherwise, according to the suit.
Word got out about how the university “punished” victims of sexual violence, the suit states, and other victims shied away from reporting their assaults, as a result.
‘The tide might be changing’
One of the plaintiffs, called “Jane Doe 2,” said she was brutally raped on campus 15 years ago, but only recently found the courage to seek justice from Liberty.
She says that on a night in 2005, three men attacked and raped her as she walked from Liberty’s main campus to her dorm room on the university’s east side. The woman says she reported the assault, but the university didn’t tell her of her rights under Title IX, or launch an investigation under the statute.
The woman also asked Liberty to make safety improvements in the area where she was raped, but Liberty refused to do so.
Eventually, the woman left Liberty and completed her degree elsewhere. She was later promised a Title IX investigation but believes the university failed to launch one.
In an interview last week, the woman told El Informe Roys that she had despaired several years ago of doing anything to hold Liberty accountable. But when Jerry Falwell resigned as president of Liberty, the woman said she was given new hope.
“The tide might be changing,” she recalled thinking. “This might be my opportunity. . . The time just seems right.” She added, “You can’t deny God’s timing in all of this.”
Since sharing her story, which was also featured on a Capitalismo gángster podcast episode, she said many have expressed anger at her treatment, which has given her unexpected encouragement.
“The amount of support and amount of shared anger that people have for me and the other victims — I never imagined the courage that would give me,” she said.
The woman added that she hopes the lawsuit will lead to a changed culture at Liberty. She envisions a campus where victims of sexual violence are cared for and their complaints investigated thoroughly.
“It’s calling for Liberty to be the Christians they claim to be,” she said.
Other Jane Does
The nine other women included in the lawsuit against Liberty share similar stories of horrific assault, followed by inaction, indifference, and sometimes retaliation by Liberty.
Jane Doe 1
In October 2013, one woman says her supervisor, Keith Anderson, showed up at her apartment in the middle of the night and bullied her into taking a tablet, which caused her to pass out. When she woke in the morning, the man was still there, the suit says, with his hands around her neck. He reportedly left only after she threatened to scream and call police.
The next day, he came again, insisted on rubbing her neck, then forced a kiss and threatened to have the woman — who was in the U.S. on a work visa — deported if she told anyone what he’d done.
For weeks, she says Anderson tortured her at work. The woman finally reported him to human resources, but according to the suit, Liberty never informed the woman of her Title IX rights.
Instead, the suit says Liberty told the woman that her supervisor was a “man of God” whom they thought she was trying to “smear.” Anderson is still employed at Liberty as of this week. The woman was passed over for professional advancement and ultimately fired.
Anderson did not reply when El Informe Roys se acercó para hacer comentarios.
Jane Doe 3
The third party in the lawsuit was a student in 2017 who blacked out at a party she attended witha male student athlete she considered a friend. The suit says the woman awoke in the athlete’s apartment, where he raped her.
According to the suit, the woman “was forced to undergo ‘spiritual guidance’” after she reported the rape to Liberty officials. This, despite the fact that she provided photos of her bruises, which she alleges were removed from her Title IX investigation file.
Without that crucial evidence, she says the university sided with the athlete.
The athlete then mounted “a campaign of harassing her, culminating in a frivolous lawsuit against her,” the suit says. The woman later attempted suicide and ultimately dropped out of Liberty in 2020.
Jane Doe 4
Another student was raped by a member of the university’s hockey team in fall 2016, the suit says.
The woman reported her rape to campus police, triggering a Title IX investigation. The investigation reportedly concluded that the sex between the students was consensual because the woman had allowed quasi-sexual activity in the past, the suit alleges. It adds that Liberty representatives refused to even consider as evidence text messages which showed that the sex was not consensual.
Jane Doe 5
One woman got pregnant by her boyfriend while she was an on-campus student at Liberty in 2016-2017. The suit alleges that Liberty called the woman into the dean’s office, where she was told she’d be evicted from campus housing if she didn’t immediately marry the baby’s father.
The couple agreed, but the woman was still booted from campus housing, the suit says. It adds that Liberty representatives never showed the woman the policies they said were grounds for their ultimatum.
Jane Doe 6
A closeted lesbian student in 2013 started dating a male student, who allegedly got her drunk to overcome her lack of interest in a physical relationship. The woman woke hours later, the suit says, and suspected she had been given a date-rape drug.
Liberty reportedly offered her counseling. But when she went to her appointment, she was told she’d have to pay a $500 fine for drinking, the suit alleges. It adds that officials never told the woman about her Title IX rights or that she could report her rape as a separate Title IX complaint.
Jane Doe 7
A female student alleges she was raped by a friend’s roommate in 2014. According to the suit, the school did not provide her training on her rights under Title IX, even though the woman was on the school’s Title IX appeals board. The woman said she didn’t even know that asking for a rape kit was a possibility.
The woman decided not to report her rape because she knew how the university had treated other sexual assault victims, the suit states.
Jane Doe 8
Another employee under Keith Anderson, the same supervisor as “Jane Doe 1,” said in the suit that Anderson sexually harassed her regularly when she was employed there from 2008-2011. The suit says that when the woman reported the harassment to human resources, Liberty revealed the woman’s complaint to Anderson, including her identity. He then retaliated with further harassment, the suit says.
Jane Doe 9
A student who graduated in 2019 said in the suit that her fiancé started to abuse her physically and emotionally. Her grades plummeted. But the suit says the woman never reported the abuse because she believed her fiancé would escape consequences since he was socially connected with Liberty administrators.
Her professors, noticing her grades, asked what was wrong, and she told them about her fiancé’s violence. They filed a Title IX report on her behalf, but an investigation was never launched, according to the lawsuit.
Jane Doe 10
Another student said her boyfriend raped her in the summer of 2014. After that, her roommates reported her to the university, the suit says, and she was forced to sit with the boyfriend and apologize to the roommates for violating Liberty’s student honor code.
The woman sought counseling, the suit alleges, but the university’s Title IX office never got involved — even after one of the university’s highest officials found out about the rape.
Jane Doe 11
A student who attended Liberty in 2018-2019 was raped by a Liberty University wrestler she was dating. The university hadn’t told her of her rights under Title IX or provided consent training. The university banned the wrestler for the rest of the time “Jane Doe 11” attended, but the suit alleges he’ll be allowed to return in 2022.
Lawsuit by 12 Jane Does vs. Liberty UniversityJane Does 12 vs. Liberty University
Statement from Liberty University
On July 20 at 4 p.m., Liberty University Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Engagement, Scott Lamb, sent the following statement
LIBERTY UNIVERSITY STATEMENT REGARDING JANE DOES’ LAWSUIT July 20 2021