Some comments given during a 2010 deposition by Oklahoma Senator James Lankford (R) are drawing scrutiny in the media this month. They involve a period of time before he first held any federal elected office when he worked at the Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center, a large campground in the Arbuckle Mountains which hosts tens of thousands of children every summer. In 2009, the family of a 13-year-old girl brought a lawsuit alleging that their daughter had engaged in sex with a 15-year-old boy who was also staying at the camp. During the deposition, Lankford was asked if he believed that a 13-year-old could provide consent to sexual activity, and he responded in the positive. He did so again when asked if his answer would be the same if it involved his own 13-year-old daughter. (Associated Press)
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.
As noted in the linked report, there has been no allegation of any wrongdoing by Lankford himself, nor was it suggested that he even knew the incident had taken place until the lawsuit began. It’s also worth noting that this story is resurfacing only days before Lankford faces a primary challenge for his Senate seat on Tuesday, so make of that what you will.
The nature of the incident in question, while regrettable, is unfortunately not all that uncommon. When you put thousands of students together in a wilderness campground and they include many high school-age children, a fair number of those boys are going to be interested in the girls, to put it mildly. Two campers behaving in that fashion is at least not nearly as bad as an adult raping one of the children. Tragically, that happened at the same camp in 2018 when an adult cook working at the facility tied up and raped a 13-year-old girl. He pleaded guilty and was somehow only sentenced to probation. But Lankford was no longer associated with the camp by then.
The consent issue does raise some questions that Lankford may need to address, however. Having no formal legal training, it may be possible that James Lankford was unaware of the applicable laws when working with the camp in 2009 and 2010. The age of consent in Oklahoma is 16. There is a “Romeo and Juliette” provision in the law covering consensual sexual activity involving children between the ages of 14 and 17, but under no circumstances are children aged 13 and under able to give consent. And for most of the country, children can’t give informed consent (an important distinction) for many activities.
In the deposition, Lankford claimed that he would “not encourage that at all” when asked about the possibility of his own daughters being sexually active at age 13. But he stopped short of saying that they couldn’t do it. He asked the question, “could she make that choice?” But he didn’t go on to answer the question.
Will this revelation have any impact on Lankford’s prospects in the primary on Tuesday? Oklahoma is a pretty conservative state to begin with and this is the GOP primary we’re talking about. But I don’t know if this particular skeleton from that far back in his closet is going to wind up tipping the scales against him this late in the campaign. And perhaps his views have changed on the subject in the ensuing decade. If anyone is really all that interested, perhaps a reporter can ask him about it again.