Column: Do more for assault victims

Tim Greimel, Christine Greig, and Adam Zemke

‘The only way really to make the truth come out was for someone to be able to meet Larry where he was most confident, which is on public ground.”

Those were the words Rachael Denhollander used when she became the first woman to publicly accuse now-convicted Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. That Nassar was confident in public, that he could harm so many for so long in view of the public and while paid by the public, should shock and alarm us all.

We must shatter the confidence of predators and sexual criminals. Our laws must instead inspire confidence in young people, especially those suffering under the weight of sexual violence or abuse. It is time to reclaim what belongs to us.

We applaud the bipartisan efforts to address the flaws in state law that failed to ensure justice was served swiftly and fully at Michigan State. Extending the statute of limitations on sexual assault, increasing penalties for possession of child pornography and expanding mandatory reporting of suspected abuse are necessary first steps.

But the Nassar scandal was exposed by a survivor taking her story to the media. That was an act of exceptional personal bravery. We need to closely examine the structural problems in our universities that allow for these types of incidents to fester behind closed doors. It is bad policy to wait for a hero.

To do that, we must immediately apply the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Acts to University Boards. Although the Michigan Senate remains unwilling to extend these basic tenets of good government to the Legislature and governor, we cannot allow their self-interest to deter us from demanding accountability and transparency from those who are entrusted with educating and protecting young people from harm.

We must also revamp our approach to sexual crimes and those they hurt.

Even before the horror of Nassar’s perpetration was uncovered, Democrats this term introduced 15 pieces of legislation to curb sexual violence in our state. These measures must be adopted immediately with bipartisan support. For many, their lives depend on it.

Our legislation addresses serious flaws in the system and makes our laws tougher on criminals. We are focused on preventing sexual assault and violence before it happens, and that starts with improving our state’s educational environment. Democrats introduced legislation last year to add sexual harassment and sexual violence to state sex education standards. We also know we can increase safety for vulnerable Michiganians by expanding mandatory reporting for coaches and volunteers for cases of abuse and neglect. This legislation would do just that.

Perhaps most importantly, our bills offer help to survivors. Democrats have introduced proposals to ensure survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking have access to paid sick leave and unemployment benefits. We also proposed eliminating the statute of limitations for survivors of certain criminal sexual conduct offenses, because survivors should not be penalized by arbitrary timelines. To help manage the implementation of these policies and provide further support, we formally established the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention and Treatment Board.

Finally, it’s time to hold bipartisan hearings into how Title IX investigations are conducted on Michigan university campuses. Too many Title IX complaints are being ignored, slow-walked or dismissed for us to let institutions of higher learning police themselves.

This is about protecting people, not playing politics. We will continue working with anyone who seeks to ensure that a tragedy like the one at MSU will never happen again. We are hopeful that legislative leadership in the Michigan House and Senate will work with us to discuss and enact these critical reforms to the governance of Michigan's 15 public universities. All Michiganians must have confidence in the systems meant to protect them.

State Rep. Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, represents Michigan’s 29th House district. Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, represents its 37th House district. Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, represents its 55th House district.