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Liberty University professor charged in alleged abduction, sexual battery of student

William Atwell, who teaches American Sign Language, was arrested on charges of sexual battery and abduction by force, according to court records.
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A professor at Liberty University is accused in the abduction and sexual battery of a student, according to the evangelical school and court records in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The man, William Atwell, was arrested late last month on charges of sexual battery and abduction by force, court records show. He was released on bail and is due back in court on Jan. 25.

Court records say that a sexual battery incident happened in September and that an abduction by force happened Nov. 19, the day before campus police arrested Atwell.

Atwell’s profile had been pulled from Liberty’s website by Thursday, but a remaining page on the site indicates that he is a professor of American Sign Language in the university’s modern languages department.

Atwell did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. A statement from a university spokesperson said he had been suspended.

“Liberty University takes nothing more seriously than claims that a faculty member has had inappropriate sexual contact with one of our students, something for which there is zero tolerance,” the spokesperson said.

“With the student’s consent, the university turned the matter over to the appropriate legal authorities and the faculty member in question was arrested,” the spokesperson added.

ProPublica reported in late October that more than 50 former Liberty students and staff members spoke of a culture at the school in which leaders discourage women coming forward with reports of sexual assault.

Students said they were dismissed or threatened with being punished after they came forward with reports of rape and sexual abuse. School officials would refer to the school’s moral code, "The Liberty Way,” which bans premarital sex and alcohol consumption, and blame the women for breaking the code, ProPublica’s investigation found. 

Meanwhile, many of the men accused of attacks walked away without consequences, according to women who spoke with ProPublica. 

A lawsuit filed in July by 12 former Liberty students and employees said the honor code makes it “difficult or impossible” for students to report sexual violence. The Title IX suit also alleged “public and repeated retaliation against women who did report their victimization."

A status report filed in October said 10 more women had come forward with similar claims. Some of the women were current Liberty students.

The school has not countered the suit. Liberty President Jerry Prevo said in a statement in July that the "allegations in the Jane Doe 1-12 v. Liberty University lawsuit are deeply troubling, if they turn out to be true."

"Many of the claims are the complete opposite of how the University’s policies and procedures were designed to operate over the years," he wrote. "Liberty University will not tolerate Title IX violations, sexual abuse or sexual assault in any form at any time."

Scott Lamb, who was Liberty’s communications chief until earlier this year, also sued the school, alleging that he was fired for raising concerns with Liberty leaders about how they dealt with reports of sexual assault.

In a countersuit, Liberty said Lamb's claims were "defamatory" and "false."

A school spokesperson did not respond Thursday to requests for comment on the lawsuits and the ProPublica article.