William Atwell, an Associate Professor of American Sign Language at Liberty University, has been arrested on suspicion of sexual battery and the abduction of a student. WSET reports that Atwell was arrested on November 20 and charged with sexual battery and abduction by force or intimidation for an incident that took place in September.
William Atwell has been charged with sexual battery and abduction by force or intimidation. A #LibertyUniversity spokesperson said, “Liberty University takes nothing more seriously than claims that a faculty member has had inappropriate sexual contact with one of our students…” pic.twitter.com/0ahkArlxnA
— Cynthia Beasley (@CynthiaABC13) December 1, 2021
Liberty, one of the largest and most influential Christian colleges in the nation, responded with a statement.
“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,” a spokesperson for Liberty University 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 faculty member has also been suspended by the university pending the outcome of this matter. To protect the integrity of investigation and the privacy of the student, we will limit further comment.”
It’s the latest in a long string of cases, allegations, scandals and lawsuits between the college and instances of sexual assault and misconduct. Liberty is facing multiple lawsuits from former students who say the school failed to take appropriate action to sexual assaults that took place on campus, suppressing their claims, blaming the victims and declining to send them to local authorities. 12 former students and employees have signed a lawsuit claiming the university’s student policy known as “the Liberty Way” “enabled on-campus rapes.” Since the lawsuit was filed, more women have come forward with similar stories.
Students and faculty hosted former Liberty professor Karen Swallow Prior and sexual assault victim advocate Rachael Denhollander to call attention to what they describe as a culture of suppressing sexual assault claims. Though Liberty agreed to a probe into its handling of such cases, both Denhollander and Swallow Prior expressed disappointment in the scope of the investigation.