Michigan gives sexual assault victims more time to press charges, sue
Lansing — Childhood sexual assault victims will have longer to press charges or sue under legislation inspired by the Larry Nassar scandal and signed into law Tuesday by Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.
With Gov. Rick Snyder out of the country for an unrelated event in Latvia, Calley signed the two bills during a series of closed-door ceremonies at the Michigan Capitol.
He was joined by victims such as Rachael Denhollander, the first of more than 260 young women and girls to publicly accuse Nassar, and Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who sentenced the former Michigan State University sports doctor to up to 175 years in prison in one of his criminal cases.
The victims’ stories and courage to demand solutions not only triggered legislative change, but cultural change as well, Calley said.
“Every time that we hear somebody talk about the cost of reform, I want to point out that it is nothing compared to the cost that the individual who has been assaulted pays,” the lieutenant governor said. “And the point of the legislation is to stop it from happening in the first place.”
The new laws will give childhood victims up to 15 years after an incident or until their 28th birthday to pursue criminal charges against their assaulter, up from 10 years or their 21st birthday under current law. Limitations could be waived if there is DNA evidence.
Minor victims will also be able to sue over an alleged assault until their 28th birthday, up from three years under current law.
The package was scaled back in the House, which also narrowed a retroactive window for victims to sue over old claims by limiting it to Nassar victims.
The Senate bill sponsors “were willing to listen before it was the popular thing to do,” Denhollander said after the bill signing.
Victims were asked more than once whether they would agree to limiting the retroactivity provision in the legislation essentially to Nassar victims.
“Our response to that was, ‘Don’t you dare,’” Denhollander said. “Because we were keenly aware that behind every single sexual assault survivor in our army are hundreds of sexual assault survivors who still don’t have a voice, who don’t have an army behind them, who are still suffering in silence and who still don’t have access to our justice system.
“I am deeply disappointed that certain members of the House chose to do precisely what we asked them not to do,” she added.
Survivors hope to revisit several issues, Denhollander said, including further changes to the statute of limitations and governmental immunity.
Bills that would strip governmental institutions of immunity in certain cases of sexual misconduct were dropped in House committee shortly after reports surfaced that Michigan State University’s $500 million settlement required victims and lawmakers to drop their support.
While the legislation is scaled back from its original intent, it still is an improvement, said Sen. Margaret O’Brien, a Portage Republican and lead sponsor.
“Michigan is saying we’re not home to pedophiles or predators, and it shows we’re serious about protecting our children,” she said. “This is just the first step, and there’s more work to do.”
Aquilina echoed that sentiment, saying the bills signed Tuesday show the state “is listening, and something meaningful is going to happen and continue to happen” as a result of the Nassar scandal.
But there is “still work to be done,” Aquilina said, expressing support for a separate Senate bill that would add coaches to the list of mandatory reporters required to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
The House removed coaches from the legislation, but the Senate added them back in last week.
The standoff has delayed action on a 24-bill House package that would include other changes in response to the Nassar crisis. The Senate is not expected to vote on the bills before beginning summer recess and may not return to Lansing until September.
Sen. David Knezek, a Dearborn Heights Democrat who sponsored one of the civil statute of limitations legislation, also attended the Tuesday's signing ceremony.