Michigan bipartisan legislation seeks to support sexual assault survivors
The senate bills were co-sponsored by Sens. Tonya Schuitmaker (R–Lawton) and Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor), and the house bill was sponsored by Rep. Laura Cox (R–Livonia). Collectively, the legislation will create consistency in the way health care providers are compensated for their support of sexual assault victims, allow courts to consider a suspect or perpetrators’ history of sexual assault prior to the case at hand and support medical providers that aid sexual assault survivors with increased reimbursements.
Schuitmaker said the legislation was brought to the Michigan state government by the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, which forced holes in current sexual assault support law.
“Because victims of sexual assault may or may not want to cooperate with law enforcement, this bill clarifies the prompt reporting requirement,” Schuitmaker said. “During prosecuting, it allows for all evidence to be used against a defendant.”
The Board said it was happy with the new legislation because it more effectively aids sexual assault victims within the criminal justice system, should they choose to prosecute the perpetrator. Schuitmaker said that the legislation will likely provide security to college students who seek action through the criminal justice system.
“Senator Warren and I have been co-chairs on the first ladies task force in regards to sexual assault on campuses,” Schuitmaker said.
The future of federal enforcement of sexual assault laws under Title IX remains unclear. In confirmation hearings, new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' commitment to continuing sexual misconduct investigations remained ambiguous.
Kinesiology junior Laura Marsh, vice chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, expressed her support for the bills and said that on college campuses, the issue of sexual assault is not discussed enough, which is why widespread legislation on the issue is necessary.
“There’s not enough done to stop it, so I’m really glad Senator Warren is looking out for her constituents on this,” Marsh said. “Because a lot of them are female college students who are going to be positively affected by the resources these bills will provide to sexual assault survivors.”
The University’s chapter of College Republicans was unavailable for comment.
Kinesiology junior Cass Bouse-Eaton is a director of the sexual violence branch of the Panhellenic Peer Educator Program, which aims to spread awareness and create a support system within the Greek life community for women struggling with sexual misconduct that is perpetrated by the school’s Greek life culture.
Bouse-Eaton too supports the new legislation, and said governmental support for victims is a step in the right direction, especially given new challenges posed by our current presidential administration. However, she also highlighted inherent flaws within the system that legislation has yet to address, specifically on college campuses.
“We have such low rates of these crimes actually being reported, but also even getting to court,” she said. “And in court, the odds that a perpetrator will ever see a day in jail are so small. So, if this legislation allows for something that’s happened in the past to be brought up in court, that’s fabulous. But it also assumes that that something has already been brought up in the past.”
Bouse-Eaton also said combatting sexual violence, harassment and assault begins with the community on campus, and solidarity is not always legislative. Rather, recognizing institutional problems and pledging support for victims of assault culture are essential to decreasing the problem on campus.
“I feel like, as women, we have a lot more power than we think we do in this situation,” she said. “We talk a lot about fraternity houses and fraternity parties. If something like this happens to one of our sisters at a house, we’re not going there anymore. We’re not feeding this culture at this house. And fraternity parties, whether we realize it are not, are upheld by female attendance. We don’t invest in things we don’t believe in.”