DATELINE: OKLAHOMA CITY — Before he became a leading voice for conservative causes on Capitol Hill, U.S. Senator James Lankford spent more than a decade as the 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 six through 12 each year.
In 2009, while Lankford worked at the camp, the family of a 13-year-old girl sued a 15-year-old boy who was alleged to have had sex with her at the camp. Lankford, who was not in Congress at the time, is not alleged to have had any direct knowledge of the alleged assault, has not been accused of any wrongdoing and was not a defendant in the lawsuit, which was settled for an undisclosed amount before it was scheduled to go to trial.
But in a 2010 deposition in the case, given a week after he was elected to his first term in the U.S. House, Lankford testified that he believed a 13-year-old could consent to sex. “Yes, I think they can,” Lankford told Kenyatta Bethea, a lawyer for the girl’s family, according 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 pressed if his answer was still the same “if I ask you that question in terms of your position as a father,” Lankford maintained his stance.
“Yes, they can,” he said.
This is not the first case of alleged sexual assault at Falls Creek. 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, according to investigators. Petty was ultimately sentenced to probation in the case, and a civil case filed by the girl’s family against the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma was settled. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
Oklahoma Baptists did not respond to questions about how many cases involving sexual misconduct at Falls Creek have been settled. In a statement, Executive Director-Treasurer Todd Fisher said the recent vote to approve recommendations from the SBC’s task force will bring about needed national reforms.
“I am thankful Oklahoma Baptists already made significant steps toward preventing abuse in Oklahoma, implementing a number of best practices in all areas of our ministries, including at our encampments,” Fisher said.
Oklahoma Baptists spokesman Brian Hobbs said some of those best practices for Falls Creek include mandatory background checks for anyone 18 and older, increased security, professionally developed safety training for all camp staff and church leaders bringing groups to the camp and protocols for reporting abuse or suspected abuse.