Liberty University Threatened to Punish Students Who Reported Title IX Violations, Investigation Reveals

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Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Photo by Flickr user Taber Andrew Bain, CC BY 2.0

A report published by ProPublica on Monday found that Liberty University, a private Christian institution in Virginia, allegedly ignored reports of sexual assault and threatened to penalize students who reported rape for violating the school’s honor code.

ProPublica interviewed more than 50 former Liberty students and staff and analyzed more than a dozen cases as part of the investigation. The results showed that the emphasis on “sexual purity” within the student honor code, titled the “Liberty Way,” led to officials victim-blaming survivors of sexual assault and ultimately discouraged students from reporting Title IX violations.

The Liberty Way prohibits students from engaging in certain acts such as being undressed in front of the opposite sex, premarital sex, drinking alcohol, and more.

After reporting her assault on campus, one student told ProPublica she was fined $500 for consuming alcohol and reportedly told to attend counseling. 

Another former student, Diane Stargel, said she reached out to a university mental health counselor after being sexually assaulted off-campus. Stargel claims the counselor told her to sign and initial a “victim’s notice” that stated she agreed not to report the incident to the police.

“I feel like Liberty bullied me into silence after what happened to me,” Stargel said. “I’ve always regretted that I never got my day in court. But at least now I can stand up and say, ‘Yeah, that happened to me.’”

The report was published on the same day former Liberty senior vice president of communications and public engagement Scott Lamb filed a lawsuit against the school claiming he was wrongfully fired because he spoke against the university’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints. Lamb, who began working for Liberty in 2018, says despite his achievements in his role he was fired on October 6 after expressing concern during an October 4 meeting that the university “had strayed so far from its original mission,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also says Lamb repeatedly told Liberty officials that “he would not be silenced or participate in a cover up” of mishandling well-publicized misconduct complaints.

Similar allegations about Liberty’s handling of sexual misconduct reports arose earlier this year. In July 2021, 12 women filed a lawsuit claiming the university “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.”

Last month, University President Jerry Prevo addressed the claims, telling students he wants them to be safe and the school does not want “any sexual harassment or sexual abuse.”

“I don’t, and I’ve told the department that deals with that,” Prevo stated. “I said, ‘you take every complaint seriously, and you deal with it seriously.”

View Lamb’s lawsuit here: