A lawsuit by a dozen women against Liberty University is exposing a blame-and-punish-the-victim rape culture straight out of the pages of the misogynistic bible that the school is based on.
The lawsuit alleges “the weaponization” of a so-called honor code known as “the Liberty Way” — which is invoked to discourage reporting of sexual assaults, to not investigate allegations and to create a climate of secrecy and retaliation. Some students attempting to report sexual assault or file complaints have been accused of violating the honor code or even forced to sign documents acknowledging such violations.
Under the code, students who engage in premarital sex or use alcohol may be expelled. But the code is even violated by such ordinary collegial activities as “visiting alone with the opposite sex at an off-campus residence, entering the residence hallway, quad or on-campus apartment of the opposite sex,” etc. Students can be fined or sentenced to community service simply for attending an event where alcohol is served or even for watching an NC-17 film or playing an “A”-rated video game.
“Sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman are not permissible at Liberty University,” the code reads, with fines of up to $300, 30 hours community service or possible expulsion.
As ProPublica reveals, “The school founded by evangelist Jerry Falwell ignored reports of rape and threatened to punish accusers for breaking its moral code, say former students. An official who says he was fired for raising concerns calls it a ‘conspiracy of silence.’” That former official, Scott Lamb, senior vice president of communications, was fired earlier this month. He told ProPublica: “Concerns about sexual assault would go up the chain and then die.” The university responded to the federal lawsuit, filed in July in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, by disabling comments on various Instagram accounts and monitoring other social media for criticism. Liberty students receive almost $800 million a year in federal aid, ProPublica points out.
The lawsuit describes the experiences of 12 women plaintiffs. Doe 2 reported being struck on the head and raped by three men in a tunnel on campus, after the university had disregarded requests she made because she was being stalked. She made known the attack to campus police and administrators, but Liberty officials did not commence a federal Title IX investigation.
When she asked the university to improve lighting in the tunnel, she was told by the executive vice president, Ron Godwin, that Liberty University was the safest university on the East Coast and that if she didn’t like it there, she could leave. After she asked to receive counseling from an off-campus therapist, she was belatedly referred to a counselor who turned out to be married to Godwin and who insinuated that she was to blame for her own rape.
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Doe 12, now in her 30s, recounts an attempted rape when she was 15 and attending a debate camp at Liberty University. The male campus police officer, she asserts, implied she was responsible for the attack because the slacks she was wearing weren’t in keeping with “the Liberty Way.”
ProPublica recounts other allegations, such as that of student Amanda Stevens, who reported to the school’s Title IX office in 2015 about being raped. An official told her that her potential infractions included drinking, having premarital sex and being alone with a man on campus. She told the publication, “I remember thinking, ‘What? Are you kidding me? I could get in trouble for coming forward and reporting?’” She later received a letter that the investigation found her student assailant was “NOT responsible.” She was not informed of her right to file a police report.
There are many injustices and scandals regarding treatment of students reporting sexual assaults on campuses all over the nation, including at public universities. But whats sets Liberty University and many other Christian colleges apart is their moral code against rape victims. Essentially, if you’ve been raped, according to the university’s code, you’re guilty of having premarital sex, in violation of Liberty Way.
And that’s exactly what the bible teaches in countless passages promoting, excusing or rationalizing rape. Innumerable portions deal with women as male property who are rightly booty of war. There are countless wartime rape orders via the Old Testament deity: “The city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished.” The few Mosaic laws directly or indirectly addressing rape are inadequate and ambiguous. One law describes what happens if a man “finds” an engaged virgin, and “lies with her” in a city venue. That sounds like rape. Along with her rapist, she is sentenced to death by stoning because, the bible assumes with no evidence, she “cried not.” (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) If a man explicitly rapes an unbethrothed virgin and “they are found,” he must pay the “damsel’s father” 50 shekels of silver (no provision for inflation) and, according to biblical justice, she must marry him and can never be divorced!
The verse that most approximates Liberty University’s indifferent, callous and noxious system is Leviticus 19:20-22, which involves a sexual liaison in which “she shall be scourged . . . and the sin which he hath done shall be forgiven him.”
A public outcry must force Liberty University, busy enriching itself at the coffers of federal dollars, to stop scourging women.