13-year-olds can consent to sex | Breaking News Updates

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Before becoming a leading voice for conservative causes on Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. James Lankford spent more than a decade as director of youth programming at the Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center, a sprawling campground about 80 miles south of Oklahoma City that attracts more than 50,000 campers in grades 6-12 each year.

The Republican lawmaker’s tenure on the camp is a prominent feature of his political profile, noted in the first paragraph of his official Senate biography. That experience is also coming under scrutiny as the Southern Baptist Convention, which is affiliated with the group that owns the camp, faces judgment over its handling of sexual abuse cases.

In 2009, while Lankford was working at camp, the family of a 13-year-old girl sued a 15-year-old boy who allegedly had sex with her at camp. Lankford, who was not in Congress at the time, reportedly had no direct knowledge of the alleged assault, was not charged with any wrongdoing and was not a defendant in the lawsuit, which was settled for an undisclosed amount before him. had to stand trial.

But in a 2010 deposition in the case, given a week after he was elected to his first term in the US House, Lankford said he believed a 13-year-old could consent to sex.

“Yes, I think they can,” Lankford told Kenyatta Bethea, an attorney for the girl’s family, according to a 155-page transcript of the deposition obtained by The Associated Press.

The age of consent in Oklahoma is 16, and although there is an exception in the law for minors between the ages of 14 and 17 who have sexual contact, there is no provision under which a 13-year-old could consent to sex. When Bethea asked if his answer was still the same “if I’m asking you this question in terms of your position as a father”, Lankford maintained his position.

“Yes, they can,” he said.

When asked if he would allow his two daughters to consent to sex when they were 13, Lankford gave a more detailed answer.

“No, I wouldn’t encourage that at all,” he said. “Could she make that choice? I hope she doesn’t, but I wouldn’t encourage that with my own daughter in any way.

It is unclear whether Lankford, who has no formal legal training, was aware of the legal age of consent at the time of his deposition. It is also unclear whether criminal charges have been filed against the 15-year-old boy. Phone messages left with Murray County District Attorney Craig Ladd were not returned.

The testimony is surfacing ahead of Tuesday’s primary for the GOP Senate nomination that would allow Lankford to run for another term. After fearing at first that he would be vulnerable to a challenge from the right, he entered the election in a position of strength. The primary winner will head into the fall general election as the overwhelming favorite in this deeply Republican state.

Aly Beley, spokesperson for Lankford’s re-election campaign, declined to comment for this story.

The revelation of Lankford’s testimony comes at a difficult time for the Southern Baptist Convention.

A scathing investigative report, conducted by an independent firm, found that top SBC leaders stifled and denigrated survivors of clergy sex abuse while seeking to protect their own reputations. In response, the SBC voted overwhelmingly earlier this month to create a way to track pastors and other church workers credibly accused of sexual abuse and to launch a task force to oversee new reforms in the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

This isn’t the first case of alleged sexual assault at Falls Creek, a 400-acre campground nestled in the Arbuckle Mountains. The camp is owned by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, which is now called Oklahoma Baptists and is part of the SBC.

Benjamin Lawrence Petty pleaded guilty in 2018 to raping a 13-year-old Texas girl at the camp. Petty, who was a cook at the camp, tied a rope around the girl’s wrists, raped her and threatened to hurt her if she told anyone, investigators said. Petty was eventually sentenced to probation in the case, and a civil case filed by the girl’s family against the Oklahoma Baptist General Convention was settled. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Lankford was no longer working at camp when the attack happened.

Court records show Reverend Lori Walke, an attorney and senior minister at Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, served as an ad litem guardian for the Texas girl during the civil case. Walke declined to discuss specifics of the case, but said she attended Falls Creek as a young girl and had serious concerns about the operation of the camp.

“Even as a kid, you recognize some things that you don’t like,” Walke said. “This real obsession with the culture of purity is overwhelming. The rules about clothing, especially for girls, were just obsessed.”

“And then the real lack of oversight, generally speaking, in all other areas,” she added. “It was absolutely down to the fact that there just aren’t enough adults around.”

Oklahoma Baptists did not respond to questions about how many sexual misconduct cases in Falls Creek have been resolved. In a statement, Executive Director-Treasurer Todd Fisher said the recent vote to approve the SBC task force recommendations will drive needed national reforms.

“I am grateful that Oklahoma Baptists have already taken significant steps toward preventing abuse in Oklahoma by implementing a number of best practices in all areas of our ministries, including in our camps. “Fisher said.

Oklahoma Baptist spokesman Brian Hobbs said some of these best practices for Falls Creek include mandatory background checks for anyone 18 and older, increased security, developed safety training by professionals for all camp staff and church leaders bringing groups to camp and protocols for reporting abuse or suspicion. abuse.

During his deposition, Lankford said he had no problem sending his daughters to camp, including when he was not present, although he acknowledged that the supervision was not perfect. .

“I know our adults are watching our kids, but the process of that, obviously, I can’t guess for every adult how they’re going to handle it,” Lankford said.

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