Liberty University professor charged after accusations of sexual battery, abduction of student

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A professor at the evangelical Liberty University is being charged with alleged sexual battery and abduction of a student at the school, Virginia court records show.

The professor, William Atwell, is accused of sexual battery of a student that occurred on Sept. 15, as well as abduction by force or intimidation on Nov. 19, according to Lynchburg General District Court. He was arrested on Nov. 20 by Liberty campus police.

In Virginia, sexual battery is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a maximum fine of $2,500, either or both, if convicted. However, the abduction charge is a class 5 felony in the state, which if convicted, carries a minimum one-year prison sentence and up to 10 years.

Atwell's profile has been taken off Liberty's staff directory, but remaining pages show he is an associate professor of American Sign Language at the university.

The charges against Atwell come as the university comes under scrutiny for its handling of alleged sexual violence on campus ever since Jerry Falwell Jr., former president at Liberty and whose dad founded the university, resigned from his position as president in August 2020 after reports of a sex scandal involving his wife.

In July, CNN reported 12 women were suing Liberty as they alleged university policies increased the likelihood of sexual assault occurring and created a hostile environment to those who reported such instances. On Oct. 24, a report by ProPublica detailed accusations that Liberty ignored or discouraged students reporting sexual violence on campus.

Last month, a former spokesperson of Liberty announced he was suing the university, saying he was fired from his job because he voiced concerns about the mishandling of sexual misconduct reports.

A statement from Liberty University sent to USA TODAY said Atwell was arrested after the university learned of accusations, and Atwell is suspended by the university "pending the outcome of this matter."

"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. We are treating this matter with the utmost seriousness, care, and concern," the statement read. "To protect the integrity of investigation and the privacy of the student, we will limit further comment."

Court records show Atwell posted bail on both counts and is set to appear back in court on Jan. 25, 2022.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Liberty professor accused of sexual battery, abduction of student

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