Over 50 former students and faculty of Liberty University in Virginia have come forward with stories of school officials discouraging, dismissing and blaming students who have tried to come forward with claims of sexual assault.
The private evangelical university justifies this discouragement of these cases with the school’s code of conduct, the “Liberty Way.” This code of conduct, based on religious values, bans consuming alcohol and “being in any state of undress with a member of the opposite sex.”
Several students have come forward to Liberty counselors to discuss sexual assault. In many of these cases, the students were told to sign forms acknowledging that, if they were to continue moving forward with the assault charges, they could be punished for violating the “Liberty Way.” Victims stated that their assaults were seen as a sexual situation with a member of the opposite sex, despite the lack of consent. Many victims also stated that their consumption of alcohol before the assault was criticized and questioned before they were able to move forward in their cases.
“I feel like Liberty bullied me into silence after what happened to me,” Diane Stargel, a former student at Liberty University, said. “I’ve always regretted that I never got my day in court.”
This issue extends beyond this one Virginia university. Victim blaming occurs in schools all over the country, including South Dakota State University. Rather than being listened to, many victims of assault are immediately bombarded with questions like, “Were you sober? What were you wearing? Are you sure that it happened? Did they mean it as a joke? Were you leading them on? Why didn’t you stop it?”
Whether these questions are asked by counselors, faculty or peers, they perpetuate a culture of victim-blaming and gaslighting. This culture leads to survivors being afraid of coming forward with their stories.
Rather than resorting to questioning a survivor when they come forward, comfort the survivor and look into school resources. If school resources do not go to their full extent to help survivors or begin to ask these same victim-blaming questions, then what hope do students have for their safety?
To ensure that SDSU remains a safe campus, speak up if the school dismisses important cases. Do so to ensure that rape accusations and sexual assault charges do not become more discouraged than rape and sexual assault itself.
The Collegian Editorial Board meets weekly and agrees on the issue of the editorial. The editorial represents the opinion of The Collegian.