Nassar Scandal Prompts Focus on Prevention, Protection, Accountability

State lawmakers in Michigan are stepping up their legislative response to the Nassar scandal. Photo Credit: Phillip Hoffmeister/Wikimedia Commons

Mona Shand
Public News Service

LANSING, Mich. – The case of disgraced former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar has prompted state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to look at funding, policy and structural changes to address the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.

The Progressive Women’s Caucus this week laid out three principles they hope will guide the state’s approach to sexual assault: prevention, protection and accountability.

State Rep. Erika Geiss, D-12th Dist. and the group’s vice-chair, wants the state to create a Title Nine ombudsman who would protect the victims of sexual assault from retaliation.

“Our society has systematically failed to listen to and believe victims without also assigning shame, blame or invalidation,” she says. “It’s past time that the state stood with survivors.”

The group also is calling for comprehensive K-12 education on the importance of consent, an increase in spending for services for victims of sexual assault, as well as legislation to remove the statute of limitations in assault cases.

Last week, a group of Republican lawmakers introduced a package that would expand mandatory reporters of sexual assault to include coaches and athletic trainers, and to let students confidentially report tips about sexual assaults to law enforcement.

Nationally, one in four women reports having been sexually assaulted or abused by the time they graduate from college, and Geiss, an adjunct professor, says the impact of the trauma can undo a student’s future.

“I understand all too well how derailing it can be for a student who is sexually assaulted to then continue with her or his studies uninterrupted,” she adds. “I’ve had students who were otherwise dedicated to their studies suddenly stop attending class, or have their grades affected negatively.”

Many of the legislative items laid out have been slowly making their way through the Capitol since the Nassar scandal began to emerge, with lawmakers saying there is bipartisan support for the majority of the proposed changes.