New Michigan Laws Protect Survivors of Sexual Assault—and Punish Abusers

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs a flurry of legislation to protect survivors of sexual abuse. (Governor Gretchen Whitmer via Facebook)

By Kyle Kaminski

July 12, 2023

Bipartisan state legislation signed this week will protect Michiganders from sexual assault by helping survivors maintain their privacy and ramping up the penalties for their abusers.

LANSING—New legislation signed this week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will help strengthen state laws in Michigan to better protect survivors of sexual abuse and hold abusers accountable. 

Lawmakers also said the new laws will help change the culture around sexual assault by ensuring young people know how to identify it, and where they can go if they need help. State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) said she worked for more than five years on the bills.

“It’s been a long journey,” she said in a statement. “We never gave up hope because we were determined to make these changes to prevent future sexual assault and protect survivors.”   

The package of nine different Senate Bills included 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 moved quickly through both chambers before being signed into law on Tuesday.

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.

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.

Shink labeled the legislation a “tremendously important and necessary change.”

“This package of bills helps support survivors of sexual assault who choose to come forward, whether it’s protecting their anonymity from FOIA or requiring that medical records be kept regarding sensitive procedures,” Shink said in a statement after the legislation was signed. 

The other components of the legislation—Senate Bills 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, and 72—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 make sexual contact under the pretext of medical care a felony. They 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,” state 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.”  

Senate Bill 236 also updated the definition of “mentally incapacitated” in state law to include any time a person is incapable of controlling their conduct due to the influence of a substance—regardless of whether the substance was administered with or without consent.

State Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City) added: “Today, we’re sending a strong message that Michigan will hold sexual predators accountable. We’re empowering survivors.”

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Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

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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