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Sexual Abuse

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The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had provided a constitutional right to abortion. The June 24 ruling is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states. In anticipation of the decision, several states led by Democrats have taken steps to protect abortion access. The decision also sets up the potential for legal fights between the states over whether providers and those who help women obtain abortions can be sued or prosecuted.

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U.S. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma testified as part of a civil case into an alleged sexual assault at the Baptist church camp he oversaw that he believed a 13-year-old can consent to sex. The Associated Press obtained a copy of Lankford’s deposition from 2010, before he'd joined Congress. A 13-year-old girl's family sued a 15-year-old boy who was alleged to have had sex with her at the camp, and also sued the camp’s owner and operator. Lankford isn’t alleged to have had any knowledge of the assault and wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing. Oklahoma's age of consent is 16. There’s no provision in state law under which a 13-year-old could consent to sex. A Lankford reelection campaign spokeswoman declined comment.

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Two of four women who testified that Ghislaine Maxwell played a role in their sexual abuse at the hands of financier Jeffrey Epstein may be speaking at her sentencing or have their statements read aloud. Prosecutors told a federal judge in a letter Friday that two of six women who either testified or were mentioned during a December trial plan to attend the Tuesday sentencing of the 60-year-old British socialite. Maxwell’s lawyer says in a separate submission to the judge that the hearing “should not a bully pulpit for anyone who was not identified as a victim."

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Prosecutors say British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell should spend at least 30 years in prison for her role in the sexual abuse of teenage girls over a 10-year period by her onetime boyfriend, financier Jeffrey Epstein. Prosecutors made their recommendations late Wednesday in a submission to the judge who will preside over a sentencing hearing next Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. The 60-year-old Maxwell was convicted in December of sex trafficking and other crimes after a month-long trial that featured testimony from four women who said they were abused in their teens. Defense lawyers say she should spend no more than five years in prison.

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Civil trial jurors have found that Bill Cosby sexually abused a 16-year-old girl at the Playboy Mansion in 1975. The Los Angeles County jury delivered the verdict Tuesday in favor of Judy Huth, who is now 64, and awarded her $500,000. The jury’s decision is a major legal defeat for the 84-year-old Cosby. It comes nearly a year after his Pennsylvania criminal conviction for sexual assault was thrown out and he was freed from prison. Cosby did not attend the Los Angeles trial. He has repeatedly denied Huth’s allegations that he forced her to perform a sex act at the mansion.

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After two days of deliberations, jurors in a civil trial deciding on sexual abuse allegations against Bill Cosby will have to start from scratch on Monday. By the end of Friday, jurors had decided on nearly all questions put before them, including whether Cosby had sexually assaulted plaintiff Judy Huth at the Playboy Mansion in 1975 when she was 16. Los Angeles County Judge Craig Karlan, who had promised one juror she could depart after Friday, wanted to accept the partial verdict, but courthouse closure rules left him no choice but to close down. Jurors will begin again with an alternate.

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The Michigan Supreme Court has rejected a final appeal from sports doctor Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to decades in prison for sexually assaulting gymnasts, including Olympic medalists. The court declined to take the case Friday. Nassar says he was treated unfairly in 2018 and deserved a new hearing, based on provocative comments by a judge who called him a “monster.” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said Nassar would “wither” in prison like the wicked witch in “The Wizard of Oz.” She told Nassar that she had signed his death warrant with a 40-year sentence. Nassar pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting gymnasts, dancers and other athletes with his hands under the guise of medical treatments for hip and leg injuries.

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The New Hampshire attorney general’s office has released preliminary proposals for calculating payments to those who were physically and sexually abused as children at the state-run Youth Development Center. Nearly 450 former residents of what is now called the Sununu Youth Services Center have sued the state based on allegations involving more than 150 staffers over six decades. Hoping to avoid lengthy litigation, lawmakers approved a $100 million settlement fund, with individual payments capped at $1.5 million for sexual abuse victims. After lawyers for the victims provide feedback, the draft proposals will be updated and submitted to the Legislature’s fiscal committee for approval.

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A lawyer for Bill Cosby told jurors they need to look past years of public accusations against him and consider only the evidence presented by a woman who says he sexually assaulted her at the Playboy Mansion in 1975 when she was 16. Lawyer Jennifer Bonjean told the jury during closing arguments at a California civil trial Wednesday that Judy Huth and her attorneys had not come close to proving their case against Cosby. Huth's attorneys say Cosby must be held accountable for his sexual abuse. Cosby, who is not attending the trial, has repeatedly denied any sexual activity with Huth.

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Lawyers for British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell say she should face no more than four to five years in prison at sentencing later this month for her role in financier Jeffrey Epstein's sex abuse of teenage girls. They said in court papers Wednesday that Maxwell should not face all the punishment Epstein deserved. They wrote that her life has been ruined and she has faced onerous and punitive jail conditions even though she's not an heiress, villain or vapid socialite. Epstein took his own life in August 2019 while awaiting a sex trafficking trial in Manhattan. Prosecutors declined comment through a spokesperson.

Colette Peters, who runs Oregon’s prison system, has emerged as the leading contender to run the federal prison system. That's according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Peters has run Oregon’s corrections department since 2012. She's now at the top of the list of candidates to replace Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal, who submitted his resignation in January but said he would stay on until a successor was named. The leadership change comes in the wake of AP reporting that has uncovered widespread problems at the agency, including sexual abuse by correctional officers and critically low staffing levels that have hampered responses to emergencies.

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Bart Barber, the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is vowing to expedite sex abuse reforms in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. He spoke a day after thousands of delegates voted overwhelmingly to create a way to track pastors and other church workers credibly accused of sex abuse. Delegates also have defeated a proposal to defund the convention’s public-policy arm, which has long been a target of critics complaining it is not conservative enough. Barber says he will work to unify Southern Baptists and heal divisions. He says local churches hold the key to growing the denomination, whose membership has been declining for over a decade.

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The Southern Baptist Convention has elected a new president — Texas pastor Bart Barber. He is a staunch conservative who would welcome bans on abortion, opposes critical race theory and supports only men as pastors. Yet Barber says he has a track record of dialogue with those who disagree on those and other issues. He has called for an “army of peacemakers” amid bitter political battles in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Barber defeated three other candidates in voting at the SBC’s national meeting in California. His closest rival, Tom Ascol, had complained of too much “wokeness” in the denomination and sought to move it further to the right.

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The Southern Baptist Convention has voted overwhelmingly to create a way to track pastors and other church workers credibly accused of sex abuse. Delegates also agreed to launch a new task force to oversee further reforms in the nation's largest Protestant denomination. The vote came three weeks after the release of a blockbuster report by an outside consultant on the long-simmering scandal. The report revealed that Southern Baptist leaders mishandled abuse cases and stonewalled victims for years. The vote fell short of what some survivors of abuse in Southern Baptist churches sought. It also met opposition from some who contended the crisis was overhyped and interfered with churches’ independence.

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The top administrative committee for the Southern Baptist Convention has elected new leaders. The three Executive Committee members who won had all supported a more transparent investigation into allegations the denomination mishandled sex abuse reports. They defeated candidates who had opposed that move. Last year the committee was embroiled in a heated debate about the issue. Members disagreed over whether to allow outside investigators access to memos between lawyers and committee staff members. Ultimately the Executive Committee voted to waive its attorney-client privilege. The recent election happened ahead of the SBC's big national gathering where thousands of Southern Baptists are expected to elect a new president and consider sex abuse reforms.

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Recent weeks have seen an especially intense set of revelations about sexual assault and misconduct in U.S. churches. An independent investigation found that Southern Baptist Convention leaders mishandled abuse cases and stonewalled victims. A woman from an independent Christian church confronted her pastor in a viral video for sexually preying on her as a teen. A documentary exposed sex abuse among the Amish and Mennonites. These and other reckonings are occurring five years after the rise of the hashtag #ChurchToo, part of the wider #MeToo movement. Says one advocate for survivors, “There is an absolute epidemic of abuse in the church.”

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El Salvador has one of the world’s strictest abortion laws, banning the procedure in all circumstances including cases of rape, incest, fetal malformation and risk to a pregnant woman's life. The country is particularly set apart by its aggressive prosecutions — often women who merely miscarry are accused of killing their fetuses and locked up for years or even decades for murder. Overwhelmingly, women who suffer that fate are young, poor and live in rural areas. Abortion rights activists say El Salvador should be a cautionary tale for what could happen in the United States if its Supreme Court overturns the constitutional right to abortion.

A man convicted of killing a 10-year-old girl in a notorious drunken driving crash decades ago is facing new charges in New Hampshire, under a new name. Peter Dushame changed his name to Peter Stone while in prison and became a licensed drug and alcohol counselor after his release. He's now accused of sexually assaulting a client who later stumbled upon his past. Stone declined an interview request from The Associated Press. Experts say his case raises complicated questions about the right to forge a new life after incarceration and what patients should know about a mental health provider’s past.

A man convicted of killing a 10-year-old girl in a notorious drunken driving crash decades ago is facing new charges in New Hampshire, under a new name. Peter Dushame changed his name to Peter Stone while in prison and became a licensed drug and alcohol counselor after his release. He’s now accused of sexually assaulting a client who later stumbled upon his past. Stone declined an interview request from The Associated Press. Experts say his case raises complicated questions about the right to forge a new life after incarceration and what patients should know about a mental health provider’s past.

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More than 30 people have filed a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse at a now-closed Los Angeles County shelter for kids waiting placement in foster homes. Their attorneys said Thursday there are more than 200 former foster children who were molested by staff and other residents at MacLaren Children's Center in El Monte. The victims include a boy who says he was 6 when he was molested by a male staffer who locked the boy in a closet as punishment for screaming during the assault. LA County's Children and Family Services agency issued a statement declining to comment on the lawsuit but said the allegations will be thoroughly examined. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

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Video testimony played for jurors at a civil trial shows Bill Cosby denying sexually abusing a teenage girl at the Playboy Mansion in the mid-1970s. The 12 minutes of clips played Wednesday for Los Angeles County jurors represent the first time Cosby's voice has been heard in the six days of trial. In one clip he flatly denies forcing Judy Huth, who is suing him, to perform a sex act. Asked whether he knowingly sought relationships with girls under 18 in the 1970s, Cosby answers “no” but says he also did not generally make sure those he pursued were 18.

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Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles and dozens of other women who say they were sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar are seeking more than $1 billion from the FBI for failing to stop the sports doctor. There’s no dispute that FBI agents in 2015 knew that Nassar was accused of assaulting gymnasts. But the agents failed to act, leaving Nassar free to continue to target young women and girls for more than a year. Individual lawsuits could follow the tort claims filed Wednesday. Claimants include Biles, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, all Olympic gold medalists. An email seeking comment was sent to the FBI. In remarks to Congress last year, FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged major mistakes.

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The leader of La Luz del Mundo church has been sentenced to more than 16 years in a California prison for sexually abusing girls. Naasón Joaquín García was sentenced Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court after several of his victims made emotional pleas to the court in which they called him evil and a monster. García, who is considered the “apostle” of Jesus Christ by his 5 million worldwide followers, had vigorously fought the charges until he abruptly pleaded guilty last week to three felonies. The church says he pleaded guilty because he didn't think he could get a fair trial.

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