LANSING — Recently the Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill introduced by state Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor) to prevent retaliation against students who report being sexually assaulted. Under House Bill 5800, K-12 students would be protected from expulsion or long-term suspension related to an incident in which they were sexually assaulted. The bill was part of a bipartisan package of bills introduced in the wake of revelations about Larry Nassar’s unchecked pattern of abuse, aimed at improving institutional accountability in handling reports of sexual assault.

“Our schools should be a safe haven for our young people to learn, grow and discover their passions. It is upsetting enough that some students are sexually assaulted at school; they should not need to fear being punished by school authorities when they report it,” Rep. Rabhi said. “These bills represent a significant step forward, but we still have a long way to go in eliminating sexual assault and supporting survivors in our state. I am committed to working on additional policy solutions that will protect all Michiganders and ensure accountability for perpetrators of sexual assault.”

HB 5800 is aimed at preventing schools from improperly blaming the survivors of sexual assault or from retaliating against survivors whose reports were not believed. The Student Advocacy Center, a non-profit that helps at-risk students stay in school, testified before the House Law and Justice Committee that they have assisted multiple students whose schools took disciplinary action against them after they reported sexual assault. The bill would bar expulsions or long-term suspensions for students who report being sexually assaulted or whose assault was otherwise reported to the school. The protection applies only to actions arising out of the assault incident, and would not apply if the student committed certain serious crimes during the incident.

“It is appalling that we would need a law to protect survivors of sexual assault from the very people who should be protecting them,” said Peri Stone-Palmquist, the director of the Student Advocacy Center. “But we have seen many instances where survivors reported an assault and were punished for indecent exposure, for defending themselves, or for some other pretext related to the assault. Student survivors have a credible fear of retaliation if they tell school authorities what happened. This bill will make our schools safer by encouraging more students to report sexual assaults.”