U.S.

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

A Liberty University professor is accused of kidnapping and sexually beating a student, according to an evangelical school and court records in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Court records show that William Atwell was arrested late last month on charges of sexual battery and forced kidnapping.

He has since been released on bail and will return to court on January 25.

Court records say the alleged sexual beating occurred in September, while the alleged kidnapping by force occurred on November 19, the day before campus police arrested him.

Atwell’s profile was pulled from Liberty’s website Thursday, but the remaining page on the site states that he is a professor of American Sign Language in the university’s Department of Modern Languages.

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 allegations that a faculty member has had inappropriate sexual intercourse with one of our students, which is not tolerated,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“With the student’s consent, the university referred the matter to the relevant legal authorities and the concerned faculty member was arrested,” the spokesperson added.

A ProPublica article published in late October said that more than 50 students and former Liberty employees spoke of a culture at the school in which leadership discourages women from reporting sexual assault.

Students said they were expelled or threatened with punishment after submitting reports of rape and sexual assault. The ProPublica investigation found that school officials would point to the school’s moral code, the “Freedom Way,” which prohibits premarital sex and the use of alcohol, and blame the women for breaking the law.

Meanwhile, several of the alleged male attackers have left without consequences, according to women who spoke to ProPublica.

A lawsuit brought by 12 students and former Liberty employees in July said the honor code makes it “difficult or impossible” for students to report sexual violence. The lawsuit under Law 9 also alleged “general and repeated retaliation against women who reported abuse.”

A case report submitted in the case in October stated that 10 other women made similar allegations. Some of the women were current students of Liberty.

The school did not resist the lawsuit. In July, Liberty President Jerry Privaux said in a statement that “the allegations in Jane Doe 1-12 v Liberty University are deeply troubling, if proven to be true.”

“Many of the allegations are the exact opposite of how the university’s policies and procedures have been designed to operate over the years,” he wrote. “Liberty University will not tolerate violations of Act IX, sexual assault, or sexual assault in any way at any time.”

Scott Lamb, who was Liberty’s head of communications until earlier this year, also sued the school alleging he was expelled for raising concerns with Liberty’s leadership about the way they handled sexual assault reports.

Liberty, in a counterclaim, called Lamb’s allegations “defamatory” and “false.”

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

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