New laws kick in to protect Michigan kids—and send abusers to prison

By Kyle Kaminski

October 13, 2023

New state laws that took effect this week are set to protect children from sexual abuse and impose steeper criminal penalties for those who hurt kids—especially if it’s their doctors. 

MICHIGAN—People who are sexually assaulted under the guise of medical treatment will be further protected when coming forward, and their abusers will receive stricter punishments under recently signed legislation that officially took effect in Michigan this week.

“The bills taking effect this week will protect survivors and give them the resources they need,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “As a county prosecutor, I went after those who used their power to prey on young people. Now, as governor, I have proudly signed legislation banning child marriage in Michigan and protecting sexual assault survivors. Together, we can make Michigan a safe, welcoming place where everyone can envision a bright future.”

The new laws—which Whitmer signed in July—are designed to strengthen state laws in Michigan to better protect survivors of sexual abuse and hold their abusers accountable, as well as ensure young people know how to identify abuse, and where to turn if they need help.

The package of nine different public acts 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 changes moved quickly through both chambers before being signed into law this summer.

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.”   

Here’s a quick overview of the new laws: 

Public Act 57—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.

Public Act 64—sponsored by Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northville)—amends 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 new laws—Public Acts 5863—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, including a possible sentence of 25 years in prison.

Under the law, a disciplinary subcommittee would permanently revoke the license of any health professional convicted of sexual contact or penetration under the pretext of medical treatment.

Together, the bills also 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.”  

Public Act 65 also updates 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.”

The long-sought changes to Michigan’s law were first introduced following the Larry Nassar case in 2018, when former athletes at Michigan State University and elsewhere testified that the campus sports doctor had sexually assaulted them. Nassar is serving decades in prison.

Bills signed into law by Whitmer in July also created a no-exceptions minimum marriage age of 18. Before this year, Michigan was among seven states with no legal minimum age for marriage.

READ MORE: Whitmer Signs Bills to Ban Child Marriage Despite Republican Pushback

For the latest Michigan news, follow The ‘Gander on Twitter.

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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