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Lawmakers reintroduce package to support survivors of sexual assault

Rep. Julie Brixie speaks at a podium before several other lawmakers and survivors.
Arjun Thakkar
Rep. Julie Brixie speaks at a podium before several other lawmakers and survivors to advocate for the legislation

State lawmakers are introducing a bipartisan package of bills that would expand resources for survivors of sexual assault and give them more time to seek legal action against their abusers.

The proposed measures include an extension to the statute of limitations for legal claims against sexual misconduct from the current cutoff of age 28 to 52.

Flanked by supporters and survivors at a Thursday press conference, Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township) said the statute change is important because many individuals who've been sexually assaulted don’t share incidents until much later in life—a phenomenon known as delayed disclosure.

“This is about our sons, our daughters, our nieces or nephews, our husbands and wives who have been afflicted with a public health crisis that's been hidden for far too long,” Brixie said.

According to CHILD USA, a non-profit advocacy organization that aims to protect children from abuse, the average age a survivor reports child sex abuse was 52. The group also cites data from the Department of Justice indicating 86% of child sexual abuse remains unreported.

The current civil statute of limitations allows a suit to go forward up to three years after "the time of discovery" of a sexual assault incident. The bills would change that to seven years.

If passed, they would also remove some governmental immunity from criminal sexual conduct and grant a two-year period to survivors for whom the statute of limitations on an incident has already expired.

The legislature previously extended the statute in 2018 in the fallout of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal. But the reforms also limited suits to just victims assaulted by physicians over a period of time, and lawmakers were unable to find consensus on broader efforts.

Brixie said that selective statute is not enough.

"Michigan is the only state in the nation to pass a law restricting survivors access to justice based on the occupation of the abuser," she said. "It's not about who committed the abuse. It's about those who survived it. The legislature should not be dictating which survivors have access to justice."

Supporters also say the bills would enact a “Survivors Bill of Rights” and provide more resources to those healing from abuse.

If passed, the package would require that survivors be told they have a right to have a supporter or counselor with them when reporting an incident. It would also require hospitals to provide a free shower to survivors who receive a forensic exam.

Similar packages have been proposed in the previous two sessions under a Republican majority, but lawmakers were unable to find consensus.

At least one Republican lawmaker has backed the bills so far this year.

Senator John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) said he hopes the legislature can bring justice to survivors.

"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," Damoose said. "So, let's come together this time and make it different.”

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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