Nassar Abuse Survivor Rachael Denhollander Looks to Change Michigan’s Sexual Assault Laws

“I didn’t feel like I had a choice” about going public, says Denhollander.

Office of state Sen. Margaret O’Brien

It’s horrifying to think that former USA Gymnastics Team doctor Larry Nasser’s cruelty toward hundreds of girls and young women happened so close to home, at Michigan State University.

But it’s also not just coincidence that it happened here in Michigan. In the wake of the Nassar scandal, survivors have turned their attention to our state’s sexual assault laws.

They say Michigan is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to laws on the books to protect people from sexual abuse.

Those survivors are teaming up with a bipartisan group of state lawmakers to strengthen those protections. They unveiled a series of new bills on Monday at the state Capitol.

The bills would extend the statute of limitations for civil and criminal sexual abuse claims to 30 years after a person’s 18th birthday. They would increase penalties for possessing child pornography. They would require coaches, athletic trainers, and physical therapists to report complaints of sexual abuse, and increase penalties for failing to report those cases. And they would make it clear that governmental entities — including colleges and universities — do not have immunity from civil or criminal sexual assault cases.

Detroit Today host speaks with Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse, about her story and her new focus on strengthening Michigan’s sexual assault laws.

“I was convinced from the time I started understanding what had happened that the only way to put enough public pressure on the institutions surrounding Larry [Nassar] to get them to take what had happened seriously, the only way really to make the truth come out, was for someone to be able to meet Larry where he was most confident, which is on public ground, and be able to do it without flinching,” says Denhollander.

“I did not expect I would ever be the one to do it because I believed the statute of limitations had expired on my 25th birthday and I had never seen any hope of being believed,” she continues.

Henderson also speaks with state Sen. Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage), who is spearheading the legislative effort in the state Senate.

“Rachael Denhollander…met with me and a small group of legislators on December 5th,” says O’Brien. “And at that point, they had laid out everything they had researched and what they had discovered. And it became very clear what our mission was. Our mission was to right the wrongs. It was to improve young people’s future, to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”

On the same day these bills were unveiled, the U.S. Department of Education announced it was opening its own investigation into Michigan State University’s handling of the Nassar scandal. Henderson speaks with Detroit Free Press higher education reporter David Jesse about that news, including about the question of whether U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is able to objectively oversee an investigation into MSU Interim President John Engler, with whom she has had a long political relationship going back to his time as governor of Michigan and beyond.

Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.


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