Rape survivor hopes lawsuit against Liberty University will help protect other women

Lynchburg & Central Virginia News

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — When Jane Doe 11 attended Liberty University in 2019, she says she was raped by her boyfriend, and after she broke up with him, he stalked her and threatened her life. She says she did not get the support she needed from Liberty.

“As a survivor of sexual harassment and assault, I felt like I was the one on trial,” said Doe 11.

She says she previously had consensual sexual activity with her former boyfriend that violated the student handbook known as the Liberty Way. Doe 11 says that made it difficult for her to report the rape.

“Because I thought if I told her the aspect of my story that I would be the one getting in trouble.”

“The core of the lawsuit is the complaints that the individual victims have in respect to the way the Liberty University student handbook was weaponized against them,” said Jack Larkin, an attorney representing Doe 11 and 11 other women from across the country in a multi-plaintiff lawsuit against the university.

“So the whole time that I’m going through this process is, I’m trying to maneuver and walk on eggshells and I’m really trying to protect my own,” said Doe 11.

Doe 11 is one of 12 women, all identified as Jane Doe 1-12, who have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the University of creating an unsafe atmosphere.

The women allege sexual harassment, assault, and rape, that they say was committed on campus or by fellow students or faculty members. The lawsuit claims the way Liberty University handled their individual cases violated Title IX civil rights law.

Title IX is at the heart of all 12 women’s stories.

“Title IX entitles them to certain protections and investigations and relief from the University when they become the victims of gender-based harassment, violence, or other discrimination,” said Larkin, “and in each of these instances, they did not receive what they were entitled to from the University.”

Doe 11 filed a Title IX report against her ex. She also filed criminal charges against her ex for threatening her life.

“He pled no contest and ended up getting charges on his record,” said Doe 11, “but Liberty said that their case is unfounded, and they were unable to do anything.”

Doe 11 thought that was unacceptable.

“I wanted Liberty to find him guilty of something, and they told me that they didn’t have enough information, even though courts had enough information.”

Larkin says there is room for Liberty to hold onto its Evangelical values while still ensuring victims get the relief to which they’re entitled.

“I never thought that I would have this opportunity,” said Doe, “but now that I do, I want to make sure that it hopefully brings awareness so that other women don’t have to go through what I did.”

In another case, Jane Doe 12 says she was a minor attending a summer camp at Liberty in 2000. She says while there, LU football player Jesse Matthew, Jr. groped and assaulted her.

She says Matthew attacked her, groping her legs and breasts, and attempting to strangle her. She claims that when she bit his hand and arm, he apologized and asked her not to call the police.

According to Doe 12, Liberty University Police arrested Matthew, but subjected the woman to an hours-long interrogation, explaining that Matthew claimed their interaction was consensual and threatening her that if she didn’t withdraw her claim, she would be charged criminally with filing a false police report.

The woman says Liberty University Police accused the then 15-year-old girl of making up the story, then subjected her to a strip search in which she was photographed while naked.

Matthew was later convicted of killing Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington and UVA student Hannah Graham. He left Liberty in 2002 after he was accused of another sexual assault, but he was never charged.

Doe 12 says police ordered her to wash her hands of any potential DNA evidence under her fingernails.

Another woman, identified as Jane Doe 2, alleges that she was walking back to her dorm through a pedestrian tunnel when she was hit on the head and gang-raped by three men.

She says the university did not conduct a Title IX investigation. In addition, Doe 2 says she was sent to a counselor who, “asked her leading questions that suggested that she was at fault for her rape.”

In a court filing, Doe 2 says she later learned that the counselor she was referred to by Liberty University was the wife of an Executive Vice President at Liberty University.

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