Gymnasts To Join Lawmakers Monday To Unveil Bills Aimed At Stopping Sexual Abuse

By Kathleen Gray
Detroit Free Press

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A Dec.5 meeting between gymnast Rachael Denhollander and Michigan state Sen. Margaret O’Brien led to weekly strategy sessions by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to develop a 10-bill package of legislation that will be unveiled today in Lansing.

Detroit Free Press

Michigan state Sen. Margaret O’Brien has known Rachael Denhollander for years.

When Denhollander was growing up in Kalamazoo, she worked on some of O’Brien’s early political campaigns. And when, after becoming a lawyer and moving to Louisville, Ky., Denhollander decided to go public with her story of being sexually abused by former Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar, she counted on that connection with O’Brien to turn the story into positive action.

“After she first went public, she asked me if she could meet with legislators. She told us what she had discovered in research and found we were one of the worst states of the nation,” O’Brien, a Portage Republican, said. “The charge was laid out that we had to do something.”

That Dec.5 meeting with Denhollander led to weekly strategy sessions by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to develop a 10-bill package of legislation that will be unveiled on Monday in Lansing.

“This will definitely help. It’s not just a MSU problem. We know there are pedolphiles across the country,” O’Brien said. “It’s not just about Larry Nassar and Michigan State, it’s about getting justice and moving forward.”

The bills will:
* Extend the statute of limitations for civil and criminal sexual abuse claims to 30 years after a person’s 18th birthday;
* Increase the penalties for possessing child pornography;
* Expand the number of people who are mandated to report complaints of sexual abuse to include coaches, athletic trainers and physical therapists and increase the penalties for failing to report cases.
* Clarify the law to ensure that governmental entities, including universities and colleges, do not have immunity from civil or criminal cases of sexual assault.

The extension of the statute of limitation is needed, O’Brien said, because “studies have shown that women who have been abused as children don’t confess until an average age of 41. Men who have been abused won’t confess until the age of 38.”

The mandatory reporting aspect is needed to help prevent such abuse from ever happening again.

“Mandated reporting will definitely help. If the gymnastics coach was a mandatory reporter, maybe the increased penalties would have compelled them to do the right thing.” O’Brien said.

Joining O’Brien at the 4 p.m. press conference Monday at the state Capitol are the bipartisan group of lawmakers from both the House and Senate and: gymnasts Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of assault; Lindsey Lemke; Sterling Riethman; Larissa Boyce; Olympian Jordyn Wieber and athlete Amanda Thomashaw. Another 50 to 60 of the women who testified against Nassar during the three weeks leading up to his sentencing, are also expected to appear.

Several other bills growing out of the Nassar scandal also have been introduced in the state House of Representatives, including: changing the way the board members of Michigan State University, Wayne State University and University of Michigan are selected. Currently, the board members are elected by voters in a statewide election.

The legislation would have the governor, who already appoints board members of the other 12 public universities in the state, appoint the trustees at the remaining three universities.

Those bills face a tough challenge, though, because they will require a change to the state’s constitution, which must get a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate and then put to a statewide vote of the people.

O’Brien said the package of bills, which will get a hearing Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, will have a better chance of quick passage.

“We hope to have it expedited through the Senate and we’ve been working with our partners in the House to get a hearing there as well,” she said.

The bills are being introduced in the weeks after Nassar was sentenced in Ingham and Eaton counties for sexually abusing young girls and women while he was treating them for sports injuries. More than 200 of the survivors, including many members of the U.S. Olympics gymnastics’ teams, gave compelling and emotional victim impact statements over the three weeks leading up to his sentencing.

In cases originating in Ingham and Eaton counties, Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison in addition to 60 years in federal prison for charges of possessing more the 37,000 pieces of child pornography.

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