Criminal sexual conduct laws may toughen after MSU scandal

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LANSING – Michigan lawmakers may extend the statute of limitations on criminal sexual conduct laws and allow victims to remain anonymous when claiming sexual assault in Michigan.

Prosecutors could bring charges of second-degree criminal sexual assault at any time after the crime was committed if senate bills now before the House of Representatives pass.  The bills also propose that third-degree charges of sexual assault on a minor could be prosecuted for 30 years after the victim turned 18. If the victim is an adult at the time of the crime, they would have up to 10 years after the assault to press charges.

Right now, the charges must be pressed within three years of all sexual assault crimes.

The bills were prompted in response to the national attention surrounding Michigan State University and the Larry Nassar scandal. Nassar, a university sports medicine doctor, was convicted of multiple sexual crimes in cases brought forward by patients he treated at MSU, at USA Gymnastics and at a local gym in Dimondale, Michigan.

Sponsors hope the bills will prevent a similar situation.

“There is a culture of silence nationwide,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge.

Jones, a police officer for 31 years including a term as the Eaton County Sheriff, said he has dealt with cases of sexual assault. Too many people are focused on protecting the institution in cases of sexual assault, when the protection should be given to the victim, he said.

“To not report these instances of assault is criminal,” Jones said.

The proposed legislation would do just that.

It requires teachers, coaches, volunteers and trainers to report a sexual assault. If they don’t, they could be fined $5,000, face two years in prison or both.  The offense currently is a 90-day misdemeanor.

In February, the bills passed through the state Senate. They were recently introduced into the House of Representatives.

This change would bring Michigan in line with Pennsylvania, which increased its sentence to two years after the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Pennsylvania State University, Jones said. He hopes this new sentence will get people to take the law seriously.

“This could’ve been stopped a long time ago if coaches, teachers, and trainers had reported what these kids were telling them was happening,” Jones said. “People obviously weren’t afraid of the old laws; hopefully this will bring about change in the way adults respond to a child in need.”

Students at Michigan State have not been afraid to make their voices heard. Natalie Rogers, a sophomore at MSU, is a leader of Reclaim MSU, a self-described “alliance of students, staff, and faculty working for broad institutional and cultural change at MSU.” The bills are necessary for the victims’ search for justice, she said.

“I was happy to see [the senate] take action,” Rogers said. “I think this action is appropriate, and I commend the survivors and the supporters for helping spark this change.”

Rogers said the cultural effects of the bills will have a lasting effect on MSU and Michigan by removing the negative stigma around sexual assault victims.

“A lot of students have been upset at the way the MSU Board of Trustees has handled the events that have occured,” Rogers said. Recent board meetings have been flooded with students anxious to object to actions such as the employment of former Michigan Gov. John Engler as interim president, and comments made by the board concerning the case and its victims.

“However, I think if the bill package changes the way the government handles sexual assault, then people will start to change their own opinions for the better.”