‘It felt like I couldn’t leave’: Woman recalls encounter with sexual battery suspect

Tennessee News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — She couldn’t sleep that night, she’s scared to be out alone, and she’s still asking, “What if” after an encounter with a man charged with sexual battery.

The woman, sharing her story with WATE 6 On Your Side Reporter Madisen Keavy, asking not to be identified. She’s scared.

“I just feel like women have to prepare just to live, to go out and do things, that men get to do and they don’t even have to think about. I feel like we do have something that can be stolen from us, that we have to protect at all times,” the woman said.

She was taking photo in the UT Gardens on UT Knoxville’s campus Wednesday for her biology class. The assignment was to identify specific plants and species, she’s a photographer, so the assignment fit her interests, perfectly.

She doesn’t attend UT Knoxville, but knew the UT Gardens would be the best spot to complete the photography assignment. Especially this time of year, flowers are in bloom and when she went, it was a nice day for an East Tennessee summer.

It’s during this trip to the gardens where she was approached, by the man she now knows is Paul Hollins, 32.

Hollins was charged with one count of sexual battery in relation to an incident on Aug. 19 at the Target on Ray Mears Boulevard.

A woman reported that she was approached inside of the Target by Hollins, who told her that he was a YouTuber making a video called “Cash or Grab.” Hollins then instructed the victim that he would ask a series of questions for a cash prize.

“It felt like I couldn’t leave”

The woman says Hollins approached her while she was taking photos and asked if she would answer some questions. They moved from one area of the gardens to another, she says, he explained they needed to film in the shade.

When they moved, she says he showed her the camera and microphone and explained she would have to answer a few questions. She says, he asked if she agreed. She did.

What she was not agreeing to: Being touched.

She says he asked the first question, “What has a head and no body?” She answered: “A coin.”

That’s when, she says, Hollins told her she answered incorrectly and moved closer to her, positioning his hand near her back. She said in that moment, she knew, what she was feeling wasn’t right. Hollins was too close.

“I felt like he would be more angry if I just left. I took a few steps back, I faced him so he couldn’t put his arm around me anymore,” she said.

It’s between the first question and the next one, she says, UT Police officers arrived. She spotted them moments before, but now knew, they were approaching Hollins purposely.

She said multiple officers walked toward them and she was told she could leave. Her first thought, she said, was relief.

“He was, really close to me, he put his arm behind me and that’s when I turned around. By that time, the cops, they were here , they were watching,” said the woman.

“You don’t owe anyone anything”

Since it happened, the woman said she is still in “disbelief” that it happened to her. Really, that it happened to multiple women.

She says she’s tried not to blame herself, questioning what could have happened or what she did wrong.

The answer, according to a UTPD investigator, any woman on the receiving end of behavior like this is not to be blamed. Furthermore, they should not blame themselves.”

“It’s okay to step outside that box and assert yourself in a way that really claims that space for you and for your safety,” Kelley Kain, a UTPD investigator, said.

Sitting near the same spot she was nearly touched, talking about the experience, is still surreal for the woman. She says although she did not want to be identified, she hopes her story resonates with someone else and empowers them.

Her message to women: You don’t need to be polite if you feel unsafe or threatened.

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