Teen sex assault victims speak out for change

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan should prohibit sexual assault assailants from attending the same school as their victims, two teenage survivors said Tuesday morning in testimony before the state House Law and Justice Committee.

Gianna Duva and Mya Zaplitny, now 14-year-old freshmen at Brighton High School, told legislators they needed to obtain personal protection orders to ensure their assailant could not return to their school because they were assaulted off school grounds. The orders must be renewed annually.

The boy, who was 16 at the time at the time of his sentencing, was reportedly ordered to spend 45 days in a youth correctional facility under a plea deal. He initially faced 20 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct on accusations he raped three girls when he was 14 and 15 years old.

“The sentence was crushing,” said Duva, a high school cheerleader and aspiring journalist who was joined by her mother. “It made me feel like coming forward wasn’t even worth all the pain. But what really crushed me is that he could possibly come back to the same school I go to.”

Duva and other victims last year urged the Brighton School Board to expel their assailant, but existing state law did not give members the authority, said state Rep. Lana Theis, R-Brighton.

Her legislation would apply an automatic expulsion provision for sexual assaults that occur on state ground to student assaults that also happen off school grounds. A separate bill would require a judge to prohibit a student convicted of or adjudicated as a juvenile for criminal sexual conduct from returning to the same school that their victim attends.

“This case focuses a spotlight on holes in our current law by exposing a massive lack of protection for victims of sexual assault,” Theis said. “Why does the location of the assault matter? How can we possibly justify the mandatory expulsion of this perpetrator only if they assault the students under the bleachers or on school grounds?”

A third bill sponsored by Rep. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, would make it easier for student sexual assault victims to obtain personal protection orders against their alleged assailants.

Ashley Duva, who testified alongside her daughter, praised the Brighton students who came forward to “put a face on sexual assault” and said they hope changing the law would turn “our worst nightmare into some sort of positive.”

“Our girls came forward before ‘me too’ was even a thing. Before Harvey Weinstein, before Matt Lauer, before Larry Nassar,” she said. “They wanted other girls to know they were not alone. If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.”

Zaplitny, also joined at the hearing by her mother, told legislators that she was first assaulted by the boy over the summer and that his proximity to her at school gave him another opportunity.

“I had to see my rapist every single day on the school bus home,” she said. “Then it happened again. He had gotten off the bus at my bus stop. … He followed me into my house.”

The Law and Justice Committee could vote on the legislation as early as next week. But Rep. Pete Lucido, R-Shelby Township, said he would like to see more discussion and potential clarifications before advancing the measures to the floor.

Bond conditions and personal protection orders are not enough to protect student victims from assailants, he said.

“I have no problem with the way the bill is written except clarity on, does it mean charged or does it mean convicted?” said Lucido, who is also a lawyer. “Those are the two words. People are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

While she praised the intent of the bill, state Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit questioned whether the bill would apply to consensual student relationships involving a minor too young to legally give consent.

Thies acknowledged current Michigan law does not address “Romeo and Juliet” situations well but said her bills were not written to address that “conflicted area.”