Proposed bills aim to strengthen protections for sexual assault survivors in Michigan

Published: Jun. 14, 2023 at 6:40 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Survivors of sexual assault could see further protections if a collection of House and Senate bills come to pass.

The suggested changes are meant to reform the organizations that victims rely on after an assault. Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence Public Policy Specialist Heath Lowry said those organizations range from law enforcement to healthcare, to schools.

“The criminal justice system is the most evident, but also systems including medical systems, and school-related systems, regarding mandated reporting, confidentiality standards,” he said.

Senate Bills 66-68 and 73, and House Bills 4120-4125, make a number of suggestions to expand protection for sexual assault victims and education for the public, including: making education on sexual harassment a requirement for middle and high school students, increasing sentencing time for medical professionals who commit sexual assault, and widening guidelines for mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect.

A sexual assault victim from Michigan, who recently spoke out about the abuse she experienced from a religious leader, said she wasn’t protected when she needed it most.

“The logical human response to finding out that a grown man has raped a child would be to punish the abuser,” said Hannah Smith. “But the response when trying to protect a cult-like system, is to blame the children and protect the abusers.”

Advocates with End Violent Encounters, a Lansing-based organization that helps to protect victims, said stories like Smith’s happen all too often. Executive Director Kaitlynn Dwyer-Brownell said fear of disbelief is the reason that many victims don’t speak out.

“A lot of victims will struggle with hearing a lot of things that blame them, or shame them for what they’ve experienced, when it’s absolutely not their fault,” she said. “So it’s making sure that these systems are prepared to intervene...and offer support.”

Although change to sexual assault laws may not prevent every assault, Dwyer-Brownell said it will allow victims to finally be heard.

The Michigan Sexual Assault Hotline offers anonymous assistance and support without judgment. It can be reached at 855-864-2374.

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