Set of bills addressing sexual abuse passes in Michigan House

Monday, September 9, 2019 - 2:23pm

The Michigan House of Representatives recently passed bills to revoke doctor licenses of doctors convicted of sexual assault, with the intention of correcting issues uncovered by the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case.

The Michigan House of Representatives recently passed bills to revoke doctor licenses of doctors convicted of sexual assault, with the intention of correcting issues uncovered by the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case. Buy this photo
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The Michigan House of Representatives passed a series of bills with the hope of correcting issues uncovered by the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case on Wednesday

If signed into law, House Bills 4372 and 4373 would revoke doctor licenses of doctors convicted of sexual assault. These bills are sponsored by state Reps. Annette Glenn, R-Midland, and Daire Rendon, R-Lake City. 

The set of bills come as the Department of Education fined Michigan State University $4.5 million Thursday for inadequately responding to the Nassar case.

In an interview with The Daily, Rendon said the bills’ passage was a long time coming. The damage the perpetrator leaves is profound, she said, and it is important that the survivor does not feel alone.

“The severity of the punishment — it seems severe and it is, but it pales in comparison to the long-term punishment and the long-term memory that these victims have to take with them and to deal with for the rest of their lives,” Rendon said. “Their trust was violated, and it takes a long time to rebuild that trust.”

Engineering sophomore Leah Webber is a Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center volunteer involved with the Consent, Outreach & Relationship Education program. She said the bill is a step in the right direction.

“I think anyone who was convicted of sexual assault should not be able to be practicing medicine,” Webber said. “I think medicine is a very physical science ... (those convicted of assault) should not have access to people’s bodies because they don't have control over themselves around other peoples bodies.”

Additionally, House Bill 4378, sponsored by Rep. Kristy Pagan, D-Canton., would ban disclosure of the names of people filing civil actions alleging sexual misconduct under public records laws.

Webber said she thought the bill would help protect the anonymity and wellbeing of survivors of sexual assault. 

“For a lot of victims, for a lot of survivors, it’s really hard to come forward and have a case,” Webber said. “It’s a really personal choice whether survivors choose to come forward and disclose to anyone or let alone law enforcement. It’s really important that we take down any barriers so that it’s easiest for the people who choose to disclose and file lawsuits so that they have the easiest and the least traumatic course of action to do so.”

These bills are a part of a larger package of bills formed in the last term to address sexual assault following the Nassar case. Many of the bills were approved by the legislature but did not clear the Senate before the end of session. 

“What was revealed by just simply following a case — and it’s not just the Nassar case, there’s other things that have come to light as well,” Rendon said. “Particularly, when you’re dealing with athletes and college campuses, it’s hard for some of these things to get overlooked as long as they did, and that’s why this legislation is designed to make sure this type of thing does not happen again.”

To become law, the bills still have to be approved by the Michigan Senate and signed by Whitmer.

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, voted in favor of all three bills. He said he thought 4378, which prohibits the publication of survivors’ names on public records, specifically was an important part of the package.

“A lot of times, unfortunately, these predators are the folks that are committing sexual misconduct or sexual assault are able to find records of who is filing these cases and can often either retaliate or continue to find information about them that can help them to be predatory,” Rabhi said. “And that’s unacceptable.”

The bills all had bipartisan support.

“I do think that we as a state should have had this on the books already,” Rabhi said. “But now we’re making that change, which I think is necessary, and will help to address future problems that arise.”

In an initial review of the bills, Rabhi said he noticed an existing statute that essentially already made it illegal for a doctor accused of sexual assault to hold a medical license. However, the statute assumed the assault to take place between a male doctor and a female patient, and included a marital loophole. He made amendments to the bill that made the language more gender neutral and eliminated the marital loophole. 

Rabhi also mentioned he had a bill in the package that would prevent K-12 schools from reprimanding students who come forward to report instances of sexual misconduct or assault. 

In response to these bills, state Sen. Jeff Irwin wrote in an email to The Daily that work still needs to be done to improve laws against sexual assault. 

“We still need improvements to shore up the weaknesses in our laws against sexual assault,” Irwin wrote. “These bills are another step in that direction but they should be broadened to include other individuals in positions of trust and authority.”