CW: Sexual assault
The Michigan House Oversight Committee held a hearing Thursday to discuss two new bills to allow survivors of sexual assault to sue for damages. Victims of the late Robert Anderson, University of Michigan sports doctor, and Larry Nassar, former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University physician, testified before the committee to express their full support to these bills.
The two bills, known as Michigan’s Empowering Survivors Legislative Package, were originally introduced on September 16, 2020 and reintroduced in early 2021 by Rep. Ryan Berman, R-Commerce Township, and Rep. Karen Whitsett, D -Detroit. It consists of two bills aimed at protecting victims of sexual assault. The legislative package has also received bipartisan support from lawmakers.
One of the two new bills included in the legislative package, HB 4307, prevents schools from claiming immunity when the abuse has taken place “under the guise of medical care and the school knew or should have known it. know it, ”Berman said.
Berman spoke about the importance of reassessing laws to make sure they protect community members.
“We need to review… the laws we have in place,” Berman said. “Are they adequate? Do we need a change? If there is criminal sexual behavior on the part of a government agency or agent and someone knew or should have known about it and did nothing to prevent it, and ‘he allowed this to continue, so there should be some accountability. They should not be able to hide behind the shield of government immunity.
Rep. Pat Outman, R-Six Lakes, raised concerns that HB 4307 was too broad, especially the section that said a school “should have known” of the abuse.
The other bill, HB 4360, proposes an amendment to the statute of limitations to allow a one-year window for those abused while undergoing medical care to file a complaint. This is similar to the 90-day window previously allowed by state law for MSU’s Nassar survivors.
Trinea Gonczar, director of the Avalon Healing Center, was the first to testify at the hearing as a victim of Nassar. She spoke about the time it took for her to recognize her assault and the importance of changing the statute of limitations.
“I had to come to terms with the fact that my whole childhood was a lie,” Gonczar said. “As a 37 year old woman… watching other brave girls and young women speak their truth and share their impact statements one by one with almost identical stories (to) mine… the assault takes time to process. Just because a person was raped as a child, they shouldn’t be penalized. They should always be protected and given justice. “
Former MU footballer Jon Vaughn spoke about his attacks during his testimony and announced his support for the legislative package.
“We trusted our doctors, and especially the doctors at UM – who wouldn’t? Vaughn said. “Now in 2021, as a 51-year-old man, I know we have been mistreated, assaulted, raped.”
Brixie spoke about the variety of reasons many victims do not initially come forward after their assault, including PTSD and threats from the perpetrator.
“It’s important to remember that before the 2018 reforms, survivors only had three years to come forward,” Brixie said. “We in the state of Michigan, and our laws, are in part to blame for serial sex offenders housed because of our laws. “
Representative Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, said the committee should ensure that bills include some degree of protection for those accused of misconduct.
“It’s a tough line to walk here where you’re trying to make sure you’re protecting the survivors while being innocent,” Johnson said. “That’s why it’s a very difficult set of bills here to make sure we’re doing it right, so encourage the committee to be very active in this area to make sure we can thread the needle to monitor the victims while protecting the innocent.
The University has received backlash for its lack of action against Anderson after receiving complaints from students.
WilmerHale, the firm hired by the University to investigate Anderson’s misconduct, discovered that the complaints about Anderson date back to 1966.
Gonczar spoke of this historic inaction on the part of the University.
“These institutions shamed themselves, blamed themselves and only protected themselves, which in turn is the exact way to attract predatory behavior not only to thrive, but to be welcome,” Gonczar said. “The immunity of state universities is no incentive to change for the better. “…
Vaughn explained that several UM officials, including former football coach Bo Schembechler, were aware of Anderson’s misconduct and chose not to follow up on the allegations.
“They made the choice not to protect us,” Vaugn said. “Instead, the University allowed our abuse.”
Former UM wrestler Tad DeLuca also testified and shared the mental and physical effects his assaults had on him. While at college, DeLuca reported Anderson to his trainer but was turned away.
After writing an official letter to report Anderson, athletic director Don Canham suspended DeLuca from the wrestling program and took away his full scholarship, which was paying his out-of-state tuition. According to DeLuca, since the WilmerHale report was released in May 2021, current University employees have denied the allegations and the contents of the report, attacking victims who spoke out.
“The lesson was clear,” DeLuca said. “If you try to defend yourself and do the right thing, Michigan will destroy you. They will hammer you. They did it.
Daily reporter Kate Weiland can be contacted at [email protected].