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

A professor at Liberty University is accused in the abduction and sexual battery of a student, according to the evangelical school and Lynchburg, Virginia, court records.

William Atwell was arrested late last month on charges of sexual battery and abduction by force, court records show.

He has since made bail and is due back in court on Jan. 25.

Court records say the alleged sexual battery happened in September, while the alleged abduction by force happened on Nov. 19, the day before campus police arrested him.

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 Atwell 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 in a statement.

“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.

A ProPublica piece published in late October said that more than 50 former Liberty students and staff told of a culture at the school in which leadership discourages women coming forward with reports of sexual assault.

Students said they were dismissed or threatened with being punished after coming 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 alleged male attackers 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 the case in October said that 10 additional women had come forward with similar claims. Some of the women were current Liberty students.

The school has not countered the suit. In July, Liberty President Jerry Prevo said in a statement 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 he was fired for raising concerns to Liberty leadership about the way they dealt with reports of sexual assault.

Liberty, in a countersuit, called Lamb’s claims “defamatory” and “false.”

A school spokesperson did not respond Thursday to requests from NBC News for comment regarding the lawsuits and the ProPublica piece.

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