May 28, 2023 4:58 am

Local News

Bills Would Overhaul Statue of Limitations for Sexual Assault, Establish Survivors Bill of Rights

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by Jon King, Michigan Advance

Lawmakers on Thursday announced they are reintroducing laws they say will help fix Michigan’s broken process for sexual assault crimes.

State Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.) led the announcement, joined by fellow legislators, along with sexual assault survivors and advocates for criminal justice reform. Similar bills had been introduced in previous legislative sessions, but received little traction.

The package of bills would extend, or in some cases, eliminate entirely the statute of limitations related to criminal sexual conduct, limit governmental immunity in certain circumstances and provide a “Survivors’ Bill of Rights.”

Even though it was extended in 2018 in response to the crimes of former Dr. Larry Nassar at Michigan State University, Michigan’s statute of limitations for criminal sexual conduct is still among the narrowest in the country at age 28.

Brixie, whose district is adjacent to the MSU campus, said having been in close proximity to MSU and watching reactions to the abuses suffered there really opened her eyes to the need for legislative reform and to be able to provide access to justice for survivors.

“As a parent of three kids who are now all in their 20s, witnessing our friends and neighbors publicly suffer because of Michigan laws that harbor abusers really motivated me to bring change to our legal system,” she said. 

“The average age a child sex assault survivor discloses their abuse is 52,” Brixie added. “Let that sink in. When children suffer sex abuse, they usually don’t disclose that abuse until they’re in their 50s.This phenomenon is well documented and is called delayed disclosure and delayed disclosure, combined with our state’s archaic statute of limitations law allows 86% of child sex abuse to go unreported.”

Also speaking was Emily Meinke with RISE, a nonprofit group that supports survivors of sexual abuse. A former gymnast who was first abused by Nassar while training at Great Lakes Gymnastics Club in Lansing, Meinke said her experience demonstrates the need to reform the statute of limitations.

“I am a survivor of Larry Nassar and did not disclose this to anybody until five years ago when I flew up here from my home state Florida and read my victim impact statement in court,” she said. “That’s why the statute of limitations reform is so critical because I know that I am one of many thousands of survivors who are in the same boat, and we need to have access to the judicial system for all of the survivors who are in a delayed disclosure situation.”

State Sen. John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) called it a “moral abomination” that so many people are victimized at the hands of sexual predators.

“We’ve talked for years about fixing our laws that too often have denied the healing in the face of these crimes and the healing that comes with justice and accountability,” he said. “We’ve looked survivors in the eye, many of them in this room today, too many times and promised action and it hasn’t come. So let’s come together this time and make a difference.”

The number of male survivors of sexual assault was also discussed. Rep. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield Twp.), who noted that while one in three female victims of sexual violence will report their assault, one in 10 men will do the same. Arbit said the under reporting by male survivors distorts and obscures a full understanding of the scope and frequency of sexual violence against men and boys. 

“I’m here today not only as a state representative, but as a survivor because it is so past time for action to rebalance the scales of justice in favor of survivors,” he said. 

“That is what this legislation aims to achieve and I’m so thankful to my colleagues for their leadership and to every single boy or man out there who has survived sexual violence, I want you to know that you are not weak because you were assaulted. It does not make you any less of a man. It is not your fault,” Arbit said. “Coming forward is not easy. It is the hardest thing to do, but pursuing justice and accountability can help. It helped me. And I think these bills will make sure that as we do that, the criminal justice system is not a point of further victimization.”

The “Access to Justice” plan reforms Michigan’s statute of limitations laws by:

  • The Access to Justice plan reforms Michigan’ statute of limitations laws by:
  • Extending civil statute of limitations from age 28 to age 52.
  • Extending civil statute of limitations after the time of discovery, from three years to seven years. 
  • Eliminating civil statute of limitations if there is a criminal conviction.
  • Establishing a two-year revival window for survivors whose statute of limitations previously expired.
  • Removing governmental immunity for criminal sexual assault in some circumstances.

The Survivors Bill of Rights would:

  • Require survivors are notified of their right to speak with advocates and supporters at all stages of the reporting process.
  • Require hospitals with shower facilities to provide free showers to survivors who received a forensic exam.
  • Require processing, review, and reporting of forensic exam kits in an adequate time frame. 

The legislative package currently contains nine bills. 

The bills reforming the statute of limitations are:

  • HB 4482, sponsored by Brixie         
  • HB 4483, sponsored by Rep. Samantha Steckloff (D-Farmington Hills) 
  • HB 4484, sponsored by Arbit         
  • HB 4485, sponsored by Rep. Reggie Miller (D-Belleville)        

The bills reforming government immunity are:            

  • HB 4486, sponsored by Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) 
  • HB 4487, sponsored by Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit) 

Other bills in the package are:

  • HB 4488, sponsored by Rep. Christine Morse (D-Texas Twp.), would establish the Survivors Bill of Rights. 
  • HB 4489, sponsored by  Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) would reform the forensic review process. 
  • HB 4490, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Conlin (D-Ann Arbor), addresses post-forensic care. 

This story was written by Jon Kind, contributor to the Michigan Advance, where this story first appeared.

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