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Michigan Sex Abuse Laws: Legislators Continue to Push For New Bills

There is no region of the country that is immune to sex abuse crimes. However, in recent years the state of Michigan has been in the news repeatedly for sex abuse cases involving university doctors and student-athletes.

First, it was Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor, whose years of sexually abusing young female athletes became public in 2016 after gymnast Rachael Denhollander shared her story with the Indianapolis Star. Nassar is now serving life in federal prison.

The state made headlines again recently due to revelations of decades of sexual abuse at the University of Michigan. After pressure from former athletes who came forward detailing sex abuse by university employee Dr. Robert Anderson, the University of Michigan released results of an investigation that confirmed Anderson – who died in 2008 – committed sexual misconduct on “countless occasions” during his nearly four decades at the school.

On November 4, the Michigan House passed several bipartisan bills that could be considered progress in the fight for more protection for current and future student-athletes. The package prohibits authority figures from standing in the way when sexual assault survivors attempt to report their crimes; it also includes more measures to support reporting. 

In House Bill 4851, any superiors – including teachers, doctors, department heads and other officials – cannot intentionally use their “…professional position of authority over another person to prevent or attempt to prevent the person from reporting a crime.’’

As she introduced the bill, State Rep. Julie Alexander (D-Hanover) explained that the additional law is necessary to supplement incomplete state law. Currently, it only prohibits someone from using “physical force” to stop someone from reporting abuse or sexual assault.

“What we have learned in many of these situations is that while physical force is the most obvious form of persuasion, the use of an individual’s power of authority over an individual can also be just as coercive,” Rep. Alexander said.

Reports of University of Michigan Sex Abuse Ignored

One case by former University of Michigan wrestler Tad Deluca serves as striking evidence of the necessity of the new legislation.

In 1975, Deluca attempted to report his chronic molestation by Dr. Anderson, who performed unnecessary rectal exams at virtually every medical visit. Deluca had been seeing the doctor for an elbow injury.

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At the time, Deluca wrote a nine-page letter to his wrestling coach and then-athletic director Don Canham detailing the abuse. “Something is wrong with Dr. Anderson,” he wrote. “Regardless of what you go in there for, Dr. Anderson makes you drop your drawers.”

Deluca, who expected action to be taken against the doctor, instead received a belittling return letter from Canham, who removed him from the team and informed him that his athletic scholarship would be revoked.

Decades later, in 2018, Deluca was motivated to reach out to University of Michigan officials again after watching “the courage of the survivors of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal at Michigan State University.”

This time he wrote current University of Michigan athletic director, Warde Manuel. Again, Deluca hoped by sharing personal information that he would see results for student-athletes experiencing sexual abuse at the university. 

However, the letter sat on the desk of a University of Michigan Title IX office administrator until eventually being recovered as part of a police investigation concerning the past abuse at the school.

House Bills Offer Hope for Michigan Sex Abuse Survivors 

Although it has been slow in coming, Deluca, along with so many other victims of both Anderson and Nassar, is seeing positive actions from lawmakers with the passing of HB 4851 and other bills aimed at paving an easier way for student-athlete victims who wish to report their abuse.

The House approved three related bills, including HB 4852, which would make it unlawful to use one’s position of authority to prevent reporting of sexual misconduct specifically to a school’s Title IX coordinator; HB 4854, which requires employers to provide training materials to employees who are “mandatory reporters” of sexual abuse; and HB 4856, designed to support government agencies in exempting from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act the names of sexual misconduct victims who wish to remain anonymous. 

“When the extent of Larry Nassar’s pernicious abuse was uncovered during my first term, my fellow legislators and I publicly stated we would do everything we could to protect the people of Michigan and prevent a similar tragedy from ever happening again,” said Rep. Alexander. “This vote proves our commitment still holds true today. We have heard the voices of survivors — and responded.”

Before they can be made into law, all the bills must be approved by the Senate’s upcoming session.