Liberty Federal investigation
Citing possible violations of law, three U.S. Senators are pressing the federal government to investigate Liberty University's handling of sexual assault claims (Photo by Taber Andrew Bain/Creative Commons)

Senators Call for Federal Probe Into Liberty U’s Handling of Sexual Assaults

By Hannah Dreyfus

Citing possible violations of federal law, three senators, including the two from Virginia, are pressing the U.S. Department of Education to investigate Liberty University’s handling of sexual assault claims.

Liberty’s board also voted Friday to open an “independent and comprehensive review” of the school office tasked with handling discrimination and abuse.

The review and congressional calls for a federal investigation come in the wake of ProPublica’s article last month detailing how Liberty has discouraged and dismissed students who filed reports of sexual assault. Women who went to school officials to report being raped recalled being threatened with punishment for breaking Liberty’s strict code of conduct. Others said that even Liberty University police officers discouraged them from pursuing sexual assault charges.

Like all universities that receive federal funds, the Virginia-based Liberty has to properly handle claims of sexual assault and violations of Title IX, the law banning colleges from discriminating on the basis of gender. Liberty students receive almost $800 million a year in federal aid.

Liberty University has not responded to requests for comment about its conduct or the senators’ call for an investigation.

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Tim Kaine Liberty U
U.S. Senator Tim Kaine

“Any campus policy that deters or discourages a survivor of sexual assault from speaking out and seeking justice is wrong,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., in a statement to ProPublica. “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.”

Kaine introduced legislation two years ago that would require colleges to have an independent advocate available to support survivors of sexual assault.

Virginia’s other senator, Mark Warner, also a Democrat, likewise called on the school to “act immediately to remedy the issues alleged” and asked the Department of Education to “look into Liberty’s procedures.”

Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., also admonished the university for falling short of ensuring students’ rights to a safe campus environment.

A spokesperson for Casey said, “Our staff has been in touch with the Education Department,” after ProPublica’s investigation. “The revelations out of Liberty University are disturbing and must be investigated.”

Liberty’s announcement of an independent investigation follows a rally on the school’s Lynchburg campus last week that called for a comprehensive audit of the school’s culture and its structures around reporting sexual assault.

Justice Janes Liberty protest
On November 4, attorney and abuse victims’ advocate Rachael Denhollander speaks to Liberty University students at a protest event (Photo: Robert Locklear for The Roys Report)

Advocate Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast whose testimony helped lead to the conviction of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, spoke at the rally alongside 200 Liberty students and alumni. The rally coincided with an event for Liberty’s board of trustees.

Students and alumni say they are not satisfied with the school’s promise of a review of the office tasked with handling discrimination and abuse, arguing that the review is limited in scope and doesn’t assure transparency throughout the process.

“We requested a culture, structure and policy audit, not just a review of the office,” Dan Harris, an activist and current Liberty student, told ProPublica.

Liberty’s press release following the board meeting noted that school President Jerry Prevo also discussed efforts to increase campus security, including the installation of up to 1,000 security cameras and blue-light emergency boxes across campus.

Meanwhile, Liberty University filed a temporary restraining order against its former chief of communications, Scott Lamb, alleging he violated school confidentiality agreements by releasing internal emails to the media.

The school is suing Lamb for the misuse of “trade secrets.”

Lamb told ProPublica he was fired for raising concerns about the school’s handling of sexual assaults. Lamb, who filed a lawsuit against the school last month, said Liberty has engaged in a “conspiracy of silence.”

This story was originally published by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive ProPublica’s biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

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11 thoughts on “Senators Call for Federal Probe Into Liberty U’s Handling of Sexual Assaults”

  1. Liberty may be guilty here and they may not be but one thing I do know is that it isn’t the job of Senators to investigate if crimes did occur. If you think its a coincidence that the senators pushing this issue are all Democrats and the school is a Christian school then I have a bridge I would like to sell you.

    1. The senators are not investigating Liberty, they are calling on the Department of Education to investigate Liberty. That is in the lede of the story.

      I do not know where to begin with the partisan angle, except to point out that Liberty University has a lot of clout among the Republican base. Consequently, Republican politicians have a conflict of interest when it comes to treating the University impartially.

      To summarize: I can tolerate scrutiny from my ‘opponents.’ I cannot tolerate a lack of accountability from my friends.

  2. Bill needs to read the article more carefully before assuming (and you know that makes you) things. For starters, the article clearly states that the Senators were asking the DOJ and Department of Education to investigate, not that they were investigating it themselves. Second, 2 of the senators represent that state and people of Virginia, so it is entirely possible that some students and/or family of students contacted their senators to ask them to push for the investigation. People do this all the time to deal with FedGov Executive branch bureaucracy.

    I am not ruling out any political angle or motivations at all, but to make it something nefarious or out of line makes Bill the first three letters of the word assume.

    1. Maybe you can share with us all the other times that the Senators from PA and WA admonished any other universities, especially those that are not in their home state.Just as I do not know if there is guilt or innocence with Liberty neither do these Senators and yet they specifically chose this case to speak out on. If you feel that my politics are conservative and that I distrust progressive politicians then I stand guilty as charged.

      1. I did not say there was no political angle if you read my post. Also, why is there silence from politicians you do agree with about the behavior and actions of the leadership of Liberty University? As for guilt or innocence, that would be determined in a court of law. But there is sufficient probable cause to warrant an investigation, which is what these politicians are asking for as part of the job of those Federal agencies. And even if you disagree with the politicians on policy and the like, there is old saying about a stopped clock being right twice a day.

      2. Emmitt Cornelius

        I must say, if it’s “progressive” politically to want the handling of sexual assaults at LU investigated by the DOE, then count me as a progressive any day.

        1. YTD there have been 678 murders in the city of Chicago. Give me a list of Democrat congressmen or Senators who have said a single word about this. NY governor Cuomo eventually had to resign over sex related charges involving those who worked for him yet none of these Senators who came out against Liberty had a word to say about it. So why do you think it is that they decided to opine on this particular situation? Do you think that Liberty’s leadership having supported Republican politicians just might have had something to do with it? Or maybe do you feel that the Liberty situation is more serious than those other situations I mentioned?

          1. For starters, one would think that Liberty University’s leadership supposedly being Christians would hold themselves to HIGHER standards the the world. The fact that they are not and you seem to be OK with it (and play the Whataboutism card to boot) leads me to think you look at your faith through the idolatrous lens of your politics. Which is why I bet you were a Trump-loving fanboy.

  3. Greetings everyone,

    What bothers me about Ben’s comments is there are two implied points: that Rape and Sexual Assault aren’t worth investigating and/or Republican Senators are ok that a campus in their state actively discourage, miss report and may possibly bread State and Federal Law in their handling of the cases.

    This is a classic ‘Straw man’ argument – A straw man argument attacks a different subject rather than the topic being discussed.

    Is it any wonder that the words ‘I am a Christian’ are being derided by the the General population? Here in a blog/website about Christian Churches and Christian Institutions, Ben posting implied that ‘we’ should fight our way to the bottom and be as bad as everyone else before any complaints are raised.

    The general impression I get from the new ‘Conservatives’ is that Jesus made a mistake in turning down the Devil’s offer of worldly power. They want it and seem to have no issues telling others how to live, but are really quick to sweep issues under the carpet.

    Trust me it is far worse to argue the ‘politics’ of the issue instead of discussing why it took ‘politics’ to clean up a ‘God fearing’ house that worships the golden calf of sucess/power.

    Best regards,
    CJ

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