LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — For the first time since multiple Title IX allegations involving mishandled sexual assault cases were made in lawsuits against Liberty University, WFXR News is hearing from one of the two dozen women accusing the university of misconduct.
Sarah Mays had no idea that the place she attended college would leave her traumatized and in a lawsuit 20 years later. Nevertheless, in 2021, Mays became known as Jane Doe 15 in a Title IX lawsuit against Liberty University for a rape case that left her pregnant two decades ago.
Mays filed alongside 21 other women, who would later be joined by another two separate lawsuits, but is one of only two women who didn’t settle with the university.
“I went to Liberty for help,” Mays explained, in her first on-camera interview since it all began.
In 2001, Mays says she was gang raped by five men off-campus. Mays later learned that she was pregnant, and discovered one of her attackers was stalking her. She says when he came onto Liberty’s campus and chased her with a knife, she went to the school for help.
“I wrote two reports in their office, one of which they had me come back and fabricate,” Mays said. “They said that if I couldn’t be sure what kind of knife it was, that I maybe didn’t know it was a knife.”
After she says she found no help at Liberty, she went to the Lynchburg Police Department (LPD).
While waiting to speak with an officer from the LPD, Mays says that she saw the Liberty University officer with whom she initially filed her report leave the interrogation room.
Mays says once she was in the interrogation room, the investigator threatened to arrest her if she didn’t say she was lying. She says when he put handcuffs on her, she did.
Eighteen years old, pregnant, and traumatized, Mays went to Liberty’s then-Dean of Women’s office.
“They were gonna expel me,” she said.
The administrator she spoke to was Mays’ former camp counselor. She says she was excited to speak with someone who would actually believe her, but the other woman told her that her hands were tied.
“She said I had options,” Mays said. “I could always go through the Liberty Godparent Home, give up my baby, and they would give me a four-year scholarship.”
Mays kept her baby and Liberty University never followed through with that expulsion, but 20 years later, she learned of a lawsuit against Liberty. She says all the women’s experiences sounded a lot like her own.
According to Mays, she and the other Jane Does proposed an alumni board oversee policy change at the university. She learned the school had agreed to negotiate without taking the statute of limitations into account and says her lawyer told her that her settlement would be between $5 and $7.5 million.
The negotiations were originally set for May, but Mays says they were moved to April in light of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
“It was kind of, like, ‘hey guys, look over here with this hand over here, we’re lighting our Freedom Tower teal in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we’re having people on campus who can support you and give you information,” while the other hand was striking down survivors of sexual assault, according to Mays.
When she went in for financial negotiations, Mays says she was blindsided. The mediator wanted her and the other women to retell their traumatic experiences.
“I now have to give intimate details of my life to this man that I just met 20 minutes ago,” explained Mays. “I immediately left the room, I was crying, my nose started bleeding, I had to pull myself together, but Liberty definitely released a psychological warfare to traumatize and to make every single girl have to relive their trauma right before going into a financial negotiation with them. So, at that point, it became clear to me that this was not a settlement.”
Mays was offered $5,000. Her lawyer went back with a request for $150,000, a drop from their original $10 million claim. Liberty offered $10,000.
Mays says the total rose, but she declined to settle, even when her lawyer told her he would waive his fee if she took the deal.
When she asked her lawyer about the school failing to follow up on her reports, she says her lawyer told her the school had sent a statement saying they did follow up on reports because they allowed her to stay in school.
“To me, that is a confession of guilt, why did you let me continue?” asked Mays. “If you felt I had violated ‘the Liberty Way,’ why was I not called back, why did I not get any kind of disciplinary action for the wrong things you said I did?”
Mays says through the process she found out about another woman who was gang raped outside the Liberty Tunnel a few years later.
“Perhaps if they had looked into my situation, maybe her situation could have been prevented,” said Mays.
She and other women in the lawsuit argued that “the Liberty Way,” the school’s code of conduct, was “weaponized” against people who reported Title IX violations.
“I was supposed to get violations for having sex with up to five men, being pregnant out of wedlock,” she said. “I feel that Liberty used ‘the Liberty Way’ to help cover these things up.”
Mays says she saw Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr., who founded Liberty University, as a mentor growing up, adding that she wants to see change at the school.
“I would rather see them prosper and see them move forward, being able to proclaim that they are actually one of the safest environments in the world, but the problem is they’ve chosen to instead hide and cover up things,” said Mays.
Mays and the other woman who didn’t settle started an initiative called “No Change Until.” They’re welcoming anyone with stories of misconduct including, but not limited to, sexual assault regarding Liberty University to stand with them and to find support from others.
WFXR News reached out to Liberty University and Mays’ lawyer, but has not heard back.
However, on Wednesday, July 27, WFXR News did receive a response from Lynchburg Police about the accusations, saying, “The LPD does not comment on any pending litigation.”
You can check out WFXR News’ previous coverage of the lawsuits against Liberty University below:
- JULY 2021: Lynchburg area women react to claims of sexual assault against Liberty University
- JULY 2021: Convicted murderer Jesse Matthew Jr. named in Liberty University lawsuit
- OCTOBER 2021: Liberty responds to lawsuit about university’s ‘mishandling of Title IX sexual misconduct accusations’
- NOVEMBER 2021: “We are in the process of installing blue boxes,” Prevo says during convocation at Liberty University
- NOVEMBER 2021: Liberty University’s Board of Trustees approves third-party independent investigation of alleged sexual assaults
- NOVEMBER 2021: Liberty University files counterclaim to suit filed by former employee alleging ‘mishandling of Title IX sexual misconduct accusations’
- NOVEMBER 2021: Sens. Kaine, Warner call for federal investigation into Liberty University amid claims of mishandled sexual assault cases
- NOVEMBER 2021: Woman accuses former Liberty student of date rape; university of failing to ‘address, deter, or punish sexual assault’ in lawsuit
- APRIL 2022: After suing over date rape, Liberty student faces $1.3M defamation claim
- APRIL 2022: Another Jane Doe sues Liberty University, claims rape, sexual assault ignored
- APRIL 2022: Jane Doe’s lawyer: Latest lawsuit against Liberty University shows ‘institution-wide problems’
- APRIL 2022: Sen. Kaine, Roanoke attorney discuss Title IX amid Liberty University lawsuits
- APRIL 2022: DOE investigating Liberty University amid claims of mishandled sexual assault cases
- MAY 2022: What does a federal Title IX investigation mean for Liberty University?
- MAY 2022: Liberty University responds after lawsuit from 12 Jane Does accusing LU of ‘enabling on-campus rapes’ settled