Report: Rape Ignored Under Liberty U's 'Purity Culture'

School discouraged reporting, ignored evidence: ProPublica
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 27, 2021 8:22 AM CDT
Report: Rape Ignored Under Liberty U's 'Purity Culture'
This March 24, 2020, file photo shows s sign that marks an entrance to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber,File)

(Newser) – Liberty University ignored reports of rape and threatened to punish victims who reported such crimes for violating the school's moral code, according to reporting by Hannah Dreyfus of ProPublica. The evangelical Christian school in Lynchburg, Va., has a strict code of conduct known as "the Liberty Way," which bans drinking and "being in any state of undress with a member of the opposite sex." "The pervasiveness of purity culture on campus is part of what makes sexual assault so impossible to handle because the assumption of guilt is immediately placed on the victim … for having put herself in a position where she could have been assaulted," Dreyfus tells NPR in an interview.

Ten former students told Dreyfus that they didn't report rapes for fear of punishment. Three students who did report rapes said they were required to sign a document acknowledging possible violations of the code of conduct and potential disciplinary actions, including hundreds of dollars in fines or expulsion. Others said the school misrepresented their claims and ignored evidence. One student said she provided the school with a text in which her alleged attacker admitted to his actions, but it wasn't cited in a summary decision concluding the man wasn't responsible. Another student said the school removed photos of her bruised body from its investigation file, saying they were too "explicit."

Cases that were reported were not always forwarded to the school's federally mandated office for investigating sexual harassment and violence, nor were students informed of the option to notify law enforcement, as is legally required, ProPublica reports. Scott Lamb, who served as the university's senior vice president of communications until Oct. 6, when he says he was fired for speaking out against repeated failures to respond to sexual assault, told Dreyfus that "concerns about sexual assault would go up the chain and then die." It was "a conspiracy of silence." A lawsuit filed against Liberty in July includes many of these same claims. Liberty has declined to comment. (Read more Liberty University stories.)

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