Lawsuit Claims Liberty University Honor Code Punishes Sexual Assault Victims
The assailant of one of the victims at Liberty University turned out to be Jesse Matthew, who later was convicted of murdering two female students at Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia.
Liberty University’s student honor code, called the Liberty Way, is under attack, as 12 women file a lawsuit against the Lynchburg, Virginia-based evangelical Christian school. They claim that they were discouraged by school officials from reporting when they were victims of sexual assault and that when they did so, they would be disciplined for violating the Liberty Way.
The Liberty Way includes guidelines for students’ dress and entertainment and does not permit sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman.
According to the complaint filed by the plaintiffs on July 20, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, “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 mail 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.”
The assailant of one of the women, a 15-year-old who had attended a debate camp in summer 2000, turned out to be Jesse Matthew, who later was convicted of murdering two female students at Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, according to the suit. The mother of one of those students, Morgan Harrington, who was murdered in 2009, told NBC12 that if those accusations had been handled differently by Liberty University, her daughter might still be alive.
In its statement, Liberty University said “We will immediately look into each of these claims to determine what needs to be done to make things right, if they turn out to be true. Because the claims are made anonymously and go back many years, in one case over two decades, it will take some time to sort through.”
Honor codes at other religiously-affiliated universities have also been criticized. Two years ago, Brigham Young University students protested against the school’s code, claiming the university mistreated victims of sexual assault and harassment, especially women and LGBTQ+ students.