Michigan Lawmakers Take Action to Protect Sexual Assault Survivors—and Punish Their Abusers

Michigan State Senator Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) speaks during a bill signing event in April. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

By Kyle Kaminski

May 10, 2023

A bipartisan package of state legislation will help students protect themselves from sexual assault, allow survivors to maintain their privacy, and ramp up penalties for doctors who prey on patients.

LANSING—Michigan lawmakers are working on new legislation this month that aims to strengthen state laws to better protect survivors of sexual abuse and hold abusers accountable. 

“After years of work, the Senate has finally been able to deliver these important policy changes that survivors and advocates have been calling for,” Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) said in a statement after the legislation cleared the Senate last week. “Sexual assault is something that happens too frequently, and today we are taking important steps forward to address it.”

The package of eight different Senate Bills includes several key policy reforms that have been passed through at least one legislative chamber in Michigan every term since 2018. But this year—with newfound support from both Democrats and Republicans in the state Senate—the bills are expected to move relatively quickly through the House before being signed into law.

Here’s a quick overview:

Senate Bill 66—introduced by Chang—requires the state Department of Education to ensure that “age-appropriate” educational materials about sexual assault and harassment are provided to all students in grades 6-12. Research shows that a lack of education about sexual assault has contributed to one in nine girls under the age of 18 being sexually abused by an adult.

The legislation also encourages all school districts to train their staff on how to respond to instances of sexual harassment or sexual assault within the state’s public schools. 

Senate Bill 73—sponsored by Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northville)—would amend the state’s public records laws to shield information that would reveal the identity of an alleged victim of sexual assault in civil litigation. Because many victims of sexual assault do not report their crime for fear or retaliation or criticism, this bill would essentially ensure they can remain anonymous.

The other components of the legislation—Senate Bills 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, and 72—would create new state laws that specifically criminalize sexual assault when it occurs under the guise of medical treatment—and they outline a variety of penalties for doctors who break the law.

Together, the bills would make sexual contact under the pretext of medical care a felony. They would also prohibit medical staff from performing “sensitive” procedures on children unless an assistant is in the room and consent has been obtained from the child’s parents or guardians. 

“We all put our utmost trust in the medical professionals who care for us, and betrayal of that trust is unacceptable,” Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) said in a statement. “By explicitly outlawing the sexual abuse of patients by medical professionals, we can help prevent these types of assaults from happening ever again and give greater recourse to survivors if it does.” 

All eight bills have since been sent to the state House, where they’ve been referred to either the House Committee on Criminal Justice or the Committee on Health Policy for further review. 

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Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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