Liberty University sexual assault allegations reveal loopholes in evangelical institutions


Is there anything moral about the university founded by Jerry Falwell Sr., founder of the Moral Majority? Between a recent lawsuit alleging that the university ignored students who complained of rape and the allegations of adultery involving former university president Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife, it certainly doesn’t sound like it.

Twelve plaintiffs suing Liberty accuse the university of willful indifference, retaliation and neglect over their sexual assault cases.

A bestselling article from ProPublica on Sexual Assault at Liberty University is a window into the authoritarian and sexist foundations of gospel belief. Twelve plaintiffs sue Liberty accused the university of willful indifference, hostile environment, retaliation and neglect regarding their sexual assault cases. The lawsuit, which was originally filed in July in the Eastern District of New York, gained 10 new plaintiffs this month, making a total of 22 complainants who filed a complaint against Liberty. Liberty University President Jeremy Prevo on Tuesday posted a statement on the university’s website he said it was a repeat of a statement made by the university when the first lawsuit was filed:

“The allegations in the Jane Doe 1-12 v. Liberty University lawsuit are deeply troubling, if they turn out to be true. Many of the allegations run counter to how the University’s policies and procedures were designed to function over the years. Liberty has invested heavily in programs and personnel to help maintain a safe campus and to support all victims of sexual assault who have come forward. Liberty has a strong policy of non-discrimination, which includes an amnesty policy to encourage victims to safely report that their participation in other activities such as alcohol consumption or extramarital sex will be sanctioned under the Student Honor Code. This policy includes a process fair in resolving disputes regarding rape, sexual harassment, gender discrimination and reprisals, as well as supportive measures, where appropriate . It would be heartbreaking if these efforts had the results claimed in this lawsuit. We will immediately examine each of these statements to determine what needs to be done to make matters better, if they turn out to be true. Because the claims are made anonymously and go back several years, in one case more than two decades, it will take some time to sort them out. “

Last year, Fallwell resigned after reports of a sex scandal involving him, his wife and another man emerged. This year there are accusations that the university has suppressed reports of sexual assault that students have made against other students. Even so, the university still hides behind the so-called Freedom path. This code of honor that students must adhere to, which is rooted in biblical warnings about morality and sexual behavior, is apparently also used by administrators to circumvent Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination. sex on campuses receiving federal funds.

According to the ProPublica report, in 2017, when freshman Elizabeth Axley reported she had been raped, Elysa Bucci, then the campus Title IX administrator, asked why Axley went to the party and what had she been drinking. ? This alleged reduction in charges by putting the blame on the accuser is cruel and unusual. Bucci, the Title IX officer named in ProPublica history, has since left Liberty to Baylor University, an evangelical campus which the rules of Title IX notoriously flouted. ProPublica reports that Bucci did not respond to his requests for comment.

Axley’s description of her treatment at Liberty is consistent with Gospel beliefs that often blame women for the transgressions of their abusers. Religious conservatives often view rape or sexual assault as a consequence of breaking moral codes that prohibit drinking, flirting, or dressing indecently. These tactics, coupled with biblical scriptures, are used to shame victims of assault.

Liberty administrators reportedly went further by intimidating victims for breaching the code of honor. Some were given forms to be signed by anonymous campus officials, admitting that they may have broken the honor code; at least one was fined, ProPublica reported.

Liberty is also not the only evangelical institution in the news for stories of sexual assault. As Mother Jones recently reported, 11 women who attended the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago said school administrators embarrassed them after they reported being assaulted. Scary and disturbing stories of gang rapes were part of the Baylor investigation.

The Moody Institute responded to Mother Jones with a statement: “The Moody Bible Institute remains committed to doing everything possible to ensure a safe and nurturing environment for all members of our community, and we are grateful to those who have made their voices heard. voice during this process. . “

In 2018, after Baylor settled down with a volleyball player who said she was raped by up to eight members of Baylor’s football team, the university released a statement:

“Baylor University understands that survivors of sexual and interpersonal violence seek resolution in several ways. By reaching a legal settlement, we recognize the challenges this survivor endured and realize that this is a small step in the healing process. “

The statement also said: “Under new leadership, Baylor has taken significant action in response to past reports of sexual violence within our university community and implemented 105 improvements to our Title IX policy, process and procedures. We remain firm in our commitment to respond appropriately to incidents of sexual assault, interpersonal violence and harassment.

The stories of Liberty, Moody and Baylor paint a grim picture of how complementarism, evangelical ideas about gender roles, take place in real life and lead to cases of assault not being properly judged. Male leadership, the role of patriarchy, and expectations that women should be chaste and pure, even if forced to do so, are among the tactics used by religious conservatives to silence victims. Secrecy and shame are used to keep rape and sexual assault a secret.

This unfair and relentless meticulous examination of women is not uncommon in churches and Christian institutions where scriptural interpretations of sexuality and purity place an undue burden on women who are expected to keep their virginity at all costs.

Liberty is not the only evangelical institution in the news for stories of sexual assault.

Men, on the other hand, are supposed to desire women and are rarely held to account in evangelism for sexual sins. The Atlanta area spa murders – by a southern baptist man who blamed her sex addiction – in March was the product of a twisted preoccupation with sexuality by evangelicals who suppress, molest and humiliate women but allow men to sexually abuse others, ask for forgiveness and abuse again.

This disgusting cycle of abuse and repentance is not only harmful, it is also in the service of protecting the institutional reputations and finances of these institutions. In its quest to present to the public and the press a morally pure student body and university, great damage has been done to the plaintiffs of the Liberty University lawsuit. The plaintiffs alleged that Liberty destroyed evidence and harassed and humiliated the victims in his attempt to intimidate them. The apparent goal was to preserve Liberty’s reputation with donors, parents and the general public.

In Prevo’s statement on Tuesday, he wrote: “With respect to accusations of the mismanagement of Title IX in the past, there is an appropriate legal process to address these concerns in order to protect alleged victims and alleged accusers. . We are adopting this legal process for the good of our institution but above all for all those involved in these allegations. “

Scott Lamb, former senior vice president of communications at Liberty, recently filed a lawsuit against Liberty claiming the university fired him because he pressured administrators to answer Pro-Publica’s questions on sexual assault. (Liberty denies that this was the reason for her dismissal.) Some of the Jane does have spoken for themselves and against Liberty on Twitter, and now there’s a # Justice4Janes movement on Liberty’s Campus, calling for systemic reforms to address sexual violence and harassment.

Overall, it’s clear that Liberty University is facing a moral and legal crisis on its own for not upholding the code of honor it has asked students to follow. The university has failed not only in its student body, but also in its so-called Christian witness to the world. Not only are university administrators hypocritical, they hide behind moral statements while practicing the worst morality: to abuse the mistreated in the name of God.

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