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Liberty University Receives Record Fines for Mishandling Reports of Sexual Assault and Other Crimes

The West Liberty University (Via Shaq Carrey/Getty Images)

The federal Department of Education has announced a big fine of $14 million against Liberty University because it didn’t handle reports of sexual assault and other campus safety issues properly.

By law, universities must help victims of violence. But the Education Department found that Liberty University, a Christian evangelical school, didn’t do this properly.

The report said that victims of sexual assault were punished, while their attackers got away without punishment. The government said that Liberty’s actions made a “culture of silence.”

These findings, announced on Tuesday, are similar to what a ProPublica investigation found. It showed how officials at Liberty discouraged and ignored women who tried to report sexual assault. Women who reported being raped said they were threatened with punishment for breaking the university’s strict moral rules, known as “The Liberty Way.”

Many people were very upset about this, including senators who demanded that the Department of Education investigate.

The investigation ended with Tuesday’s announcement. The fines against Liberty are more than twice the amount of the previous largest fine in Department of Education history. That was against Michigan State University for not protecting hundreds of women and girls from sexual abuser Larry Nassar.

The Liberty University (Via Jim Conway/Getty Images)

The federal government will also watch Liberty for two years.

Elizabeth Axley, a former student at Liberty University who was threatened when she reported her rape, said the government’s findings make her feel validated and surreal.

“For an official report to say, ‘Yes, everything you said happened, everything you described was real,’ is more powerful than I can describe,” she said. Axley recalled that when she first tried to report her rape, a resident adviser told her to pray instead.

“After I first stood up for myself at Liberty, I was silenced. I didn’t feel hopeful. It took everything for me to stand up again and hope it turned out right. This reminds me it was completely worth it.”

In response to the government’s report, Liberty University said in a statement that it was treated unfairly. But the school also admitted to making mistakes and promised to spend $2 million to make the campus safer.

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