Carleton quoted on tension between religious honor codes and sexual assault reporting in The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Are some student behavioral codes at religious institutions unintentionally chilling reports of sexual assault? In “Does the ‘Liberty Way’ Discourage Students From Reporting Sexual Assault?”, The Chronicle of Higher Education takes a look at concerns regarding Liberty University’s honor code and how it affects students impacted by sexual assault. In the article, Bricker higher education attorney Melissa Carleton explains how religious colleges and universities need to recognize the issues with codes of conduct in regard to reporting sexual assault.

Carleton noted that while the honor codes “often go to the heart” of a religious university’s mission, “these institutions are recognizing more and more the need to provide broader amnesty to encourage people to come forward.” Liberty University, founded by Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell Sr., is facing a lawsuit brought by more than 20 women over concerns about the handling of sexual assault reports.  A key question is whether the “Liberty Way,” a religiously-based honor code, penalizes reporters and thus prevents them from seeking assistance. The lawsuit alleges that women who came forward regarding sexual assault found themselves facing the threat of honor code violations for having sex outside of marriage. Honor code violations at Liberty University can result in discipline including expulsion.

Carleton noted institutions who do not provide honor code amnesty for victims reporting sexual assault “run the risk of graduating pastors and religious leaders that decidedly do not represent their values but have never been turned in due to the lack of protection for the complainants” in granting such amnesty.

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