LANSING, MI (WLNS) – Protecting Michigan’s Children. That’s the name of a 10-bill package Michigan lawmakers unveiled on Monday, aimed at combatting sexual assaults in our state.
This comes just a few weeks after former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced in two Michigan counties for sexually abusing young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.
More than 250 women and girls spoke during Nassar’s sentencing hearings. Their voices carried across the nation, and now lawmakers are using their stories to create permanent change.
Several of those women stood side-by-side on Monday as lawmakers introduced the legislation.
The 10 bill package would do the following:
- Expand the list of mandatory reporters to include coaches, athletic trainers and physical therapists
- Increase the penalty for those who fail to report allegations of abuse to one year imprisonment, up to a fine of $1,000 or both.
- Extend the statute of limitations for reporting childhood sexual abuse to 30 years after the act or 30 years after the survivors 18th birthday
- Create higher penalties for those who possess child pornography
- Allow prosecutors to introduce evidence from previous sexual assault cases in trials involving serial predators
- Eliminate immunity for colleges and universities involved with civil and criminal sexual assault cases.
“This package of bills should put fear into the heart of any possible perpetrator,” Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, said. “Justice will be served. It’s my hope that these bills will prevent someone from offending. But if they don’t, we will throw the law at them.”
Many could argue that Nassar’s crimes could have been stopped more than two decades ago, when several women said they told trusted adults about the sexual abuse and were either silenced or ignored.
That includes former gymnast and MSU alum, Larissa Boyce. She said she told former MSU Gymnastics coach Kathie Klages about Nassar’s behavior in 1997 and was silenced.
This legislation works to ensure something like that never happens again.
“I know the courage it takes to come forward and report abuse,” Boyce said. “In fact, it is an incredibly difficult thing to do. We need to strengthen our laws to ensure that we do not fail our future generations. One abused child is one too many.”
Former Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Weiber also spoke. She said she once thought winning a gold medal for her country was the most important thing she could accomplish in her life, but now realizes that this was just the beginning.
“This package of bills will help protect Michigan’s children and survivors now and in the future,” Weiber said. “It will make necessary and sweeping changes in civil and criminal law and will guarantee every survivor has their day in court.”
Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, also worked on the package of bills.
“I think at the end of the day we find out that Michigan is one of the worst states when it comes to dealing with survivors, that we make it very hard for them to come forward,” Sen. Hertel Jr. said. “This package of bills solves that problem. It makes it so that when survivors come forward they are forced to be listened to and also that they’re taken seriously and I think that’s the first step to getting this right.”
Sterling Riethman was among the many women who worked with lawmakers to craft this package.
Although she said every piece of legislation in it is important, she believes one change to our state’s law will affect victims of abuse
“The statute of limitations is one that I think will be very impactful in terms of survivors finding justice..right now our statute of limitations for the state of michigan is incredibly restricted.”>
Morgan McCaul, a survivor of Nassar, said this package of bills is the change she, and many others, have been seeking for so long.
“This is a real land mark step in my healing process,” she said. “It finally feels like we are making a difference and we are moving forward.”
Lindsey Lemke, an MSU student and survivor of Nassar. She said she’s happy to see proposed legislation that will expand the list of mandatory reporters as well as strengthening the penalty for them when they fail to report allegations of abuse.
“I feel like what I said, even a month ago, is still being heard and I think that’s the most important thing that the Olympics just happened and March Madness is coming up but people still want to hear our voices,” she said. “I think that’s the main thing, is to know that our fight is continuing on.”
Rachael Denhollander, the first to come forward about Nassar’s abuse, is urging lawmakers to pass this package of bills before summer.
“Pass this legislation, don’t wait,” she said. “You must answer the question ‘how much is a child worth?’ My greatest hope is that every senator and representative and political leader will answer: ‘worth everything.'”
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on the 10 bills on Tuesday.
Meantime, Nassar is behind bars serving his 60-year federal sentence in Arizona for admitting to possessing child pornography. On top of that sentence, he also faces 40 to 175 years behind bars in the state cases against him.