(RNS) — A new lawsuit against Liberty University claims the Lynchburg, Virginia-based evangelical Christian school has “intentionally created a campus environment” that makes sexual assaults and rapes more likely to occur.
The complaint points a finger at the “weaponization” of Liberty’s student honor code, known as the Liberty Way, which it claims makes it “difficult or impossible” for students to report sexual violence. It also claims such violence, particularly by male student athletes, was excused while the women who reported it faced retaliation.
In a written statement, Liberty University said it was looking into the allegations, which it called “deeply troubling, if they turn out to be true.”
“Many of the claims are the complete opposite of how the University’s policies and procedures were designed to operate over the years,” according to the statement provided to Religion News Service.
The suit, brought by 12 women who chose to remain anonymous, was filed Tuesday (July 20) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and first reported by ABC 13 News in Lynchburg. The women are said to include former Liberty employees and students and one woman who attended a summer camp on the school’s campus as a minor.
Liberty was aware its “policies and procedures, as written and implemented, were enabling on-campus rapes,” according to the lawsuit.
Some of the women, all identified as Jane Doe in the suit, allegedly were discouraged from reporting they had been assaulted because they were told they would be disciplined for violating the Liberty Way, according to the lawsuit.
Some women who reported their assaults to Liberty’s Title IX office or campus police allegedly were subjected to investigations that presumed they had consented to sex unless they could prove otherwise, the suit said.
Some allegedly were fined or penalized under the honor code, which the lawsuit claims has discouraged other victims from coming forward.
“The Liberty Way and its weaponization by Liberty University, as well as Liberty University’s well-documented pattern of discrimination against women victims and in favor of male assailants, created an atmosphere on campus that was permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult that was sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the education and create a sexually hostile environment” for the plaintiffs, according to the complaint.