LYNCHBURG, Va. – Twelve women have filed a lawsuit against Liberty University, claiming that “Liberty University has intentionally created a campus environment where sexual assaults and rapes are foreseeably more likely to occur than they would in the absence of Liberty’s policies.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, specifically references the Liberty Way, the university’s honor code.
Jack Larkin represents the 12 women who said that university leaders weaponized that honor code, making it difficult or impossible for them to report violations.
“For instance, you’re not permitted to drink regardless of where you are. As a result, some of the victims, who were victims of date-rape drugs, felt like they couldn’t report that to the university because if they had, they would themselves be punished. And in some instances, people who did report to the university were punished,” said Larkin during an interview with 10 News.
Some women who are part of the lawsuit reported their assaults to the university through RAs, and were urged to withdraw those reports because they involved admitted violations of the Liberty Way, according to the court filing.
One of the women detailed her encounter with then 18-year-old Jesse Mathew Jr. while attending a summer camp hosted by the university when she was 15 years old in 2000.
In May 2016, Matthew pleaded guilty to the murders of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham in 2014 and Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington in 2009 and is currently serving a life sentence in prison for his crimes.
Here’s a brief synopsis of the complaint from each of the 12 women, according to the lawsuit:
- Jane Doe 1 - A Liberty employee in 2013, she alleges that her supervisor, Keith Anderson, at one point “forcefully kissed her, on the lips, against her will.”
- Jane Doe 2 - A Liberty student in 2005, she alleges that she was gang-raped while walking on campus and when she suggested that the university make changes to the tunnel to Liberty University’s Executive Vice President Ron Godwin, she was told “Liberty University was the safest University on the East Coast and that if she didn’t like that she could leave.”
- Jane Doe 3 - A Liberty student in 2017, she alleges that she was raped and when she reported it to her RA, she was told that “if she did she would suffer penalties for drinking under the Liberty Way.” She also claims that in the university’s Title IX investigation file, photographs of bruising to her neck and breasts were considered too explicit to be included and were thus removed from the file.
- Jane Doe 4 - A Liberty student in 2017, she alleges that a member of the university’s hockey team raped her in the back of his car. Her assailant violated the Title IX order multiple times and she was told by the university’s Title IX department that calling police to say that he was violating the order was a violation on her part.
- Jane Doe 5 - A Liberty student in 2017, she had consensual sex and became pregnant. She alleges that the university expelled her, gave her 24 hours to move out and told her that “she was merely a liability to the University as a bad example to other students.” To avoid being expelled, the university demanded that she and the father of the unborn child be immediately married and the two agreed. Once the baby was born, she claims that she “continued to demand to be allowed to breastfeed or pump on campus for a period of six months before the University finally relented and allowed her access to its secure lactation rooms.”
- Jane Doe 6 - A Liberty student in 2013, she alleges that she was a lesbian who was not out at the time and felt pressure from some at the university to abandon her sinful lifestyle. When she began dating a Liberty alumnus, he raped her and when the university told her she would be offered counseling, she instead was confronted by Liberty for drinking and fined $500.
- Jane Doe 7 - A Liberty student in 2014, she was at a friend’s off-campus house when she claims she was raped by her friend’s roommate. A member of the Office of Student Conduct’s appeals board for Title IX cases, she had first-hand knowledge of the university’s treatment of the victims of sexual assault and because of that, made no report to the university about what happened.
- Jane Doe 8 - A Liberty employee from Nov. 2008 through Oct. 2011, she claimed to have been subject to “pervasive and systematic sexual harassment by her supervisor, Keith Anderson, in the form of sexually explicit comments directed toward her and to student workers and other supervisors.”
- Jane Doe 9 - A Liberty student from 2014 through 2019, she was dating and later engaged to another student at the university. After their engagement, she claims her fiance became abusive. He also happened to be well connected to high-level administrators at the university and thus she felt “that a formal report to the University would be useless, or might in fact result in retaliation against her.” In seeking counseling after the two had broken up, her assigned counselor “urged her to ‘move on’ and ‘leave it alone.’”
- Jane Doe 10 - A Liberty student in 2013, began dating a fellow student who raped her off-campus. “After [her] rape, her roommates—who had recommended that she date her rapist—reported [her] to the Student Conduct Office. Although [she] attempted to make clear that she was the victim of a rape, Liberty University’s Student Conduct Office gave her no opportunity to do so and, instead, forced her to sit with her rapist and apologize to her roommates for her violation of the Liberty Way.”
- Jane Doe 11 - A Liberty student in 2018, she claims that she was raped by her boyfriend, a member of the university’s wrestling team. She “declined to report her assault to Liberty University out of fears that her prior consensual romantic conduct would be the subject of penalties by Liberty University.” After breaking up with him, she says that he stalked her and eventually a local court issued a restraining order against him, which he still violated. She claims that “the university never offered [her] counseling, escorts, dorm or class schedule changes, or otherwise supported her during the Title IX investigation.”
- Jane Doe 12 - While a minor, she attended a summer debate camp offered by Liberty University during June and July of 2000. While on campus, she met a man she later learned was Jessee Mathew Jr. who “grabbed her and carried her into a bathroom.” She claims she was able to escape him during the sexual assault and notified the police. An officer who she said identified himself as chief of the Liberty University Police Department required her and Matthew to ride in the same car as they went to the police station. “During the interrogation, the police required her to write two separate written statements, and then accused her of fabricating her story when minor details between the two were not identical.” Furthermore, she claims that police pressured her to withdraw the claim, she was denied food or drink for eight hours and was never assessed by a child psychiatrist. She also claims that “The police refused to transport Doe 12 to the hospital and, instead, continued to badger her until she agreed to allow herself to be photographed naked by a female debate coach.”
- Matthew was later accused of rape by another Liberty University student and eventually pleaded guilty to two murders.
As a whole, the women are claiming seven counts against the university:
- Pre-assault deliberate indifference/hostile environment
- Post-assault deliberate indifference
- Hostile environment
- Pregnant and parenting deliberate indifference/hostile environment
- Negligence (non-Title IX)
- A charge in connection with the naked photographs taken of Jane Doe 12
The women are demanding a jury trial in their case against Liberty University.
Liberty University released this statement Tuesday afternoon in response to the lawsuit:
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 claims are the complete opposite of how the University’s policies and procedures were designed to operate over the years. Liberty has invested mightily in programs and personnel to help maintain a safe campus and to support any and all victims of sexual assault who came forward. Liberty has a robust non-discrimination policy, which includes an amnesty policy to encourage victims to make reports without fearing that their involvement in other activities like drinking alcohol or extramarital sex will be disciplined under the student honor code. That policy includes a fair process for resolving disputes about rape, sexual harassment, sex discrimination and retaliation, as well as providing supportive measures as appropriate. It would be heartbreaking if those efforts had the results claimed in this lawsuit. 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.Liberty University Statement Regarding Jane Does' Lawsuit
Below you can read the full text of the lawsuit: