Michigan lawmakers are taking a stand against sexual assault by reintroducing legislation aimed at fixing the broken process for sexual assault crimes in the state. Led by State Rep. Julie Brixie, this initiative is supported by fellow legislators, sexual assault survivors, and advocates for criminal justice reform. While similar bills have been introduced in the past, they have struggled to gain traction. However, with renewed determination, lawmakers are hopeful that this new package of bills will bring about the necessary changes.
The Need for Reform
Michigan’s current statute of limitations for criminal sexual conduct is among the narrowest in the country, set at age 28. Despite an extension in 2018 in response to the crimes of former Dr. Larry Nassar at Michigan State University, there is still a pressing need for further reform. The experiences of survivors and the recognition of delayed disclosure have shed light on the urgent need for legislative action. State Rep. Brixie, whose district is adjacent to the MSU campus, has witnessed firsthand the suffering caused by Michigan’s laws that protect abusers. As a parent of three children, Brixie is motivated to bring change to the legal system and provide access to justice for survivors.
Extending the Statute of Limitations
The Access to Justice plan, part of the legislative package, aims to reform Michigan’s statute of limitations laws. The proposed changes include extending the civil statute of limitations from age 28 to age 52 and extending it even further, allowing survivors to take legal action within seven years after the time of discovery. Additionally, the plan seeks to eliminate the civil statute of limitations if there is a criminal conviction. These measures aim to provide survivors with a greater opportunity to seek justice and hold their abusers accountable.
Survivor’s Bill of Rights
Another crucial aspect of the legislative package is the implementation of a Survivor’s Bill of Rights. This bill outlines several provisions that seek to support survivors throughout the reporting process and beyond. One key provision is the requirement that survivors be notified of their right to speak with advocates and supporters at all stages of the reporting process. Furthermore, it mandates that hospitals with shower facilities provide free showers to survivors who have undergone a forensic exam. This provision acknowledges the importance of providing survivors with the necessary resources for healing and recovery. Additionally, the bill emphasizes the importance of timely processing, review, and reporting of forensic exam kits, ensuring that survivors’ cases are handled efficiently and effectively.
Voices of Survivors
Rachael Denhollander, a survivor of sexual abuse and a former gymnast, was the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar, the renowned Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor, of sexually assaulting her during medical appointments. Denhollander came forward to the Indianapolis Star and the police in late 2016. Her story ignited one of the largest sexual assault cases in U.S. history, ending in February 2018 with more than 250 reports of abuse, 13 convictions, and three prison sentences for Nassar.
The discussion surrounding sexual assault also addresses the underreporting by male survivors. Rep. Noah Arbit highlighted the fact that while one in three female victims of sexual violence will report their assault, only one in ten men will do the same. This underreporting distorts the understanding of the scope and frequency of sexual violence against men and boys. Rep. Arbit, himself a survivor, emphasized the importance of rebalancing the scales of justice in favor of survivors. He reassured male survivors that coming forward does not make them weak and that pursuing justice and accountability can be a transformative and empowering experience.
The Legislative Package
The legislative package consists of nine bills that address various aspects of the reform efforts. Each bill tackles a specific issue related to the statute of limitations and government immunity:
Bills Reforming the Statute of Limitations
- HB 4482 sponsored by Rep. Julie Brixie aims to extend the civil statute of limitations from age 28 to age 52.
- HB 4483 sponsored by Rep. Samantha Steckloff seeks to extend the civil statute of limitations after the time of discovery from three years to seven years.
- HB 4484 sponsored by Rep. Noah Arbit aims to eliminate the civil statute of limitations if there is a criminal conviction.
- HB 4485 sponsored by Rep. Reggie Miller aims to establish a two-year revival window for survivors whose statute of limitations has previously expired.
Bills Reforming Government Immunity
- HB 4486 sponsored by Rep. Karen Whitsett seeks to remove governmental immunity for criminal sexual assault in certain circumstances.
- HB 4487 sponsored by Rep. Helena Scott also focuses on removing governmental immunity for criminal sexual assault.
Other Bills in the Package
- HB 4488 sponsored by Rep. Christine Morse aims to establish the Survivors Bill of Rights, ensuring that survivors are notified of their rights and have access to support throughout the reporting process.
- HB 4489 sponsored by Rep. Kelly Breen focuses on reforming the forensic review process, ensuring the timely processing, review, and reporting of forensic exam kits.
- HB 4490 sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Conlin addresses post-forensic care, recognizing the importance of comprehensive support for survivors beyond the initial examination.
The attorneys at The Fierberg National Law Group specialize in representing victims of sexual misconduct and abuse, whether as individuals or survivors of a larger group. We offer legal assistance to individuals who have been failed by institutions and organizations that should have protected them from abusers. Our firm also has unique, close relationships with the country’s leading non-profit advocacy groups, with whom we regularly confer, and at times, “partner” with on cases, to increase a victim’s ability to obtain justice and cause systematic change. Contact us today for a free consultation with some of the firm’s powerful advocates.