Evangelical university Liberty University is being sued for allegedly making it “difficult or impossible” to report sex attacks — and instead making rape victims face punishment for having pre-marital sex, according to a bombshell report.
The evangelical school — rocked last year by a sex scandal involving its then-president Jerry Falwell Jr. — was hit with a lawsuit in July by a dozen unnamed former students, ProPublica revealed.
The Virginia school’s senior vice president of communications also told the outlet he plans to file a federal lawsuit alleging he was fired for raising concerns about Liberty’s conduct.
ProPublica said it also spoke to more than 50 former students and staffers as part of an investigation allegedly showing that Liberty discouraged students from reporting sex assaults.
Several detailed how when they tried to report being raped, they were forced to sign documents admitting that they broke a code of conduct called The Liberty Way — putting them under threat of “possible disciplinary actions,” the report noted.
The purity code warns, “Sexual relations outside of a biblically-ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman are not permissible at Liberty University.”
One woman, who asked not to be identified, said that after she reported her alleged rape she was instead fined $500 for drinking alcohol and ordered into counseling.
Several others went on the record with ProPublica, claiming they were warned that by reporting assaults they faced punishment for supposed infractions, including pre-marital sex and even “being in any state of undress with a member of the opposite sex.”
“I remember thinking, ‘What? Are you kidding me?’” said Amanda Stevens, who claimed she was warned she could be punished for drinking, having premarital sex and being alone with a man on campus.
“‘I could get in trouble for coming forward and reporting?’” she recalled thinking, with her case eventually dismissed.
Another woman who tried to report an alleged assault, Diane Stargel, said she did not formally report it because she feared losing her scholarship.
“I feel like Liberty bullied me into silence after what happened to me,” Stargel told ProPublica. “I’ve always regretted that I never got my day in court.”
Elizabeth Axley recalled being “really confused” when she was warned she could be punished if she went ahead and reported allegedly being raped in the fall of 2017, just three months after she started at Liberty.
“They were making it seem like I had done something wrong,” she told the outlet, saying advisers initially tried to persuade her to pray.
“I didn’t want to get fined or punished, but I wasn’t going to let this keep me from reporting my assault,” she said, insisting she “never considered not reporting what had happened to me.”
She felt confident in her case because she had text messages with friends who were alarmed by her alleged attacker’s behavior, as well as documentation from a hospital showing she suffered bruises, welts and lacerations on her arm, face and torso.
But one of her concerned friends, Logan Pratt, claimed his words were twisted by school officials to look like he was worried about Axley’s drinking — and he was soon kicked out for admitting his own drinking.
Axley said that the photos of her injuries were kept out of her report file because they were deemed too “explicit.”
“I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach,” Axley recalled. “I had been relying on them all these months to take my evidence into account when considering my case, and it wasn’t even in my file.”
ProPublica said Liberty officials did not respond to detailed questions that were first sent weeks ago.
However, the then-senior vice president of communications, Scott Lamb, said he had wanted to respond to the investigation as well as the lawsuits — but was instead fired on Oct. 6.
“The emails from ProPublica were definitely ignored,” Lamb told the outlet, saying he pushed school officials to at least say they were “working to get to the bottom of this.”
“And then it dawned on us: They’re not working to get to the bottom of this,” he said.
Lamb said he is filing a federal lawsuit alleging he was fired for raising concerns about Liberty’s conduct.
Liberty also did not respond to detailed questions about Lamb’s claims, ProPublica said.