In a significant move to show support for survivors of sexual assault and ensure abusers are held accountable, Michigan lawmakers have created a comprehensive legislative package known as the Access to Justice initiative. State Representative Julie Brixie of Meridian Townships spearheaded this nine-bill legislation, which addresses long-standing challenges associated with the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases. The bill provides victims with new avenues to seek justice, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.
Statute of Limitations Removed for Michigan Sex Abuse Victims
The most significant obstacles to justice for those who were sexually abused, particularly as children, have been statutes of limitations, which limit the amount of time someone has to file a civil or criminal claim against an abuser or the institution that employs them. One of the key provisions of this initiative is the creation of a two-year “revival window” to allow even those with decades-old claims to file civil lawsuits to hold abusers accountable. This is a groundbreaking step because many victims of sexual assault and abuse, particularly those who are minors at the time, often wait years before coming forward. This bill empowers survivors to come forward now, even if many years have gone by.
Access to Justice takes further strides by permanently repealing the statute of limitations for future civil cases involving victims up to 52 years old. Previously, this exemption only extended to those up to the age of 28. This change reflects the age at which individuals typically report sexual assaults experienced when they were children.
The bills also eliminate the civil statute of limitations in cases where there has been a criminal conviction, removing a barrier that may have hindered survivors from seeking justice.
No More Immunity for Schools, Cities, or States
A notable aspect of this legislation is the removal of civil governmental immunity in cases of criminal sexual conduct. This change will have far-reaching implications, affecting public institutions such as schools, universities, and city and state governments whose employees are accused of sexual misconduct. In the past, loss of immunity for these institutions created opposition from various institutions and lawmakers concerned about the potential flood of litigation against current or former employees.
This bipartisan legislation emphasizes that issues related to sexual assault, particularly child sex assault, go beyond political affiliations. State Senator John Damoose, a Republican, has joined as a sponsor of one of the bills in the package, underlining the non-partisan nature of this critical criminal justice reform.
Arguments Regarding Repealing Statutes of Limitations
Statutes of limitations have long been a subject of debate. Advocates for extending the statutes of limitations for cases of sexual assault, particularly those involving minors, note that these crimes are often underreported or delayed due to repressed memories and fear that victims won’t be believed. On the other hand, opponents argue that extending the window can make it challenging to defend against cases due to the lack of evidence or witnesses over time.
As of earlier this month, 25 states had approved revival or look-back windows, allowing accusers to file lawsuits for abuse regardless of the time that has passed. Contrary to concerns, these states have not experienced an overwhelming surge in litigation. Instead, these measures have enabled survivors to seek justice against serial sexual predators who had previously evaded accountability.
In addition to addressing civil matters, Access to Justice also broadens the statute of limitations exemptions for certain criminal sexual conduct offenses. This expansion may have implications for ongoing investigations into sexual abuse within institutions like the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America, where many victims have been denied justice by criminal statutes of limitations.
Survivors’ Bill of Rights
Another crucial component of the legislative package is the Survivors Bill of Rights, designed to assist victims of sexual assault in navigating the criminal justice system effectively. This includes notifying victims of their right to speak with advocates while reporting a sexual assault and ensuring access to showers after forensic exams, as well as timely processing of rape investigation kits.
The roots of this package can be traced back to the Nassar sexual abuse scandal at Michigan State University, which prompted a series of legislative changes in 2018. These changes extended the time limits for pursuing criminal charges and civil lawsuits for young victims. However, the reforms stopped short of creating a broad repeal of the civil statute of limitations for sexual assault.
Access to Justice represents a significant step forward in supporting survivors of sexual assault and promoting accountability for perpetrators and institutions. By expanding access to justice and removing barriers to seeking accountability and compensation, Michigan is taking a crucial step toward ensuring that survivors can move forward in their recovery from sexual abuse.
OnderLaw Helping Sexual Assault Victims
For decades, OnderLaw has stood with victims to face some of the most powerful opponents in the world. Our special Sexual Assault Team is taking on institutions and others responsible for the harm they have caused to Michigan children and other victims of past sexual assault. We’re here to help. Please call 800-799-2824 for a compassionate, no-obligation consultation.