Missouri woman accuses fellow Legislature candidate of rape

ST. LOUIS (AP) " A Ferguson lawyer who is running for a seat in the Missouri House has accused another Democratic candidate of raping her during an August meeting to discuss how they could work together in the upcoming legislative session.

Cora Faith Walker, 31, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which broke the story Saturday, that she was sexually assaulted by Steven Roberts Jr., a former assistant prosecutor, after going to meet him at a St. Louis apartment on the night of Aug. 26. Both candidates are black Democrats who are running unopposed for seats in a Legislature that is predominantly white and Republican.

Walker said she had two glasses of wine and doesn't remember anything else that happened that night, and that she woke up the next morning in a bed in the home. She said she told her husband what had happened the next day, but that they waited several weeks before going to the police.

The Post-Dispatch reported that two "highly placed law enforcement sources" confirmed that there is an active investigation into Walker's allegations against Roberts. It didn't name the sources.

The Associated Press typically doesn't identify the alleged victims of sexual assault, but Walker asked the Post-Dispatch to name her, saying she hoped that doing so might give courage to women who are victims of rape and encourage a change in culture at the state capital, Jefferson City, which she said "perpetuates gender violence and rape culture."

Neither Walker nor a police spokeswoman responded to several messages seeking further information Saturday, and Roberts didn't reply to emails or voicemails seeking comment.

Roberts' lawyer, Scott Rosenblum, confirmed that the allegations are being investigated and said he has been in contact with the police. Roberts has not been arrested or charged.

Rosenblum said Walker's allegations are "unfounded."

"I think that we will be able to basically undermine those allegations pretty quickly," Rosenblum said. "Whatever happened between these individuals was absolutely consensual and I think we have what I would call objective evidence to support that." He declined to elaborate.

In addition to contacting police, Walker has also reached out to the Missouri House leadership. In a letter to House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Republican, she asked that Roberts be prohibited from taking his seat in the Legislature until the criminal investigation is complete.

Richardson, in a statement, called the allegations "extremely serious and disturbing."

"The kind of conduct alleged cannot be tolerated in our state and will not be tolerated in the House of Representatives," Richardson said. He noted that while the House has no jurisdiction because Roberts is not yet a legislator, "we will monitor the criminal investigation closely and continue to have a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault, misconduct and harassment."

The Missouri House's minority leader, Jake Hummel of St. Louis, and assistant minority leader, Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City, issued a joint statement expressing support for Walker.

"Cora Faith Walker has shown great courage in publicly seeking justice for the assault against her," they wrote. "It is vitally important for the legal system to diligently pursue this matter to an appropriate resolution."

The Legislature has dealt with several sexually-themed scandals over the past year and a half.

Richardson became speaker after the former speaker, John Diehl, a Republican from suburban St. Louis, resigned in May 2015 after acknowledging that he exchanged sexually suggestive text messages with a college intern. State Sen. Paul LeVota, a Democrat from Independence, stepped down in 2015 after interns accused him of sexual harassment, which he denied. And earlier this year, state Rep. Don Gosen, a Republican from suburban St. Louis, resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair.

Walker won the Democratic nomination to represent Missouri's 74th state House District. Among the St. Louis suburbs that seat represents is Ferguson, which became a focal point of the Black Lives Matter movement after the 2014 fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, by a white police officer. Roberts won the Democratic nomination for the 77th state House District, which represents part of St. Louis.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the House minority leader and assistant minority leader issued a joint statement of support for Walker, not separate ones.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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