LANSING, Mich., March 23, 2022 — A bipartisan package of three bills (House Bills 5962-5964) introduced by state Reps. Kelly Breen (D-Novi), Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township) and John Damoose (R-Harbor Springs) would modernize Michigan’s civil justice system for sexual assault claims and bring Michigan into line with dozens of other states across the country that have chosen to protect survivors and hold perpetrators and their enablers accountable for heinous misconduct.
Michigan’s civil statute of limitations is among the narrowest in the country. As survivors of sexual assault often do not disclose their abuse until decades after the assault, these bills would expand the opportunity for all survivors of sexual assault to file civil claims.
“Michigan is the only state to pass a law restricting survivors’ access to justice based on the identity of their abuser,” Brixie said. “It’s not about who committed the abuse: It’s about those who survived it. The Legislature should not be dictating which survivors have access to justice. Our bills allow justice for all survivors.”
Under the proposed legislation, survivors would be able to file a claim against their abuser until their 48th birthday, 10 years from the date of the sexual assault or seven years after discovering they were abused, depending on which deadline is latest. If the sexual assault resulted in a conviction for criminal sexual conduct, there would be no time limit to file a claim. In addition, procedural barriers, such as written notice requirements, would be removed for claims involving state agencies and universities.
The package would also give all survivors failed by Michigan’s narrow statute of limitations a second opportunity to file claims against their abusers and those responsible by establishing a two-year revival window.
“Those who have had their precious innocence stolen from them deserve the healing that comes with justice. That is the entire purpose of these bills. These bills are not a sweeping indictment of our great institutions, but a recognition of the sad fact that hidden amongst them have been a few terrible predators whose sins must be brought into the light. Our state must stand with the survivors of such horrific abuse,” said Damoose.
These bills join House Bill 4307, sponsored by state Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commerce Township) and co-sponsored by Brixie, which would remove the immunity defense for governmental entities in sexual assault cases to help keep Michiganders safe from sexual predators.
“It is time that the law reflects the reality of a sexual assault survivor’s journey towards getting justice,” said Isabelle Brourman, a survivor of sexual assault by a professor. “This means respecting the science surrounding trauma response as well as the external factors that influence the ability of a survivor to safely come forward. By extending the statute of limitations for survivors and ending governmental immunity for criminal sexual conduct, we will be closer to a culture of accountability instead of a culture of silence and of victim-blaming. I stand with all survivors of sexual assault. You are not alone.”
Studies have found the average age for childhood survivors to report abuse is age 52, and even many adults wait many years before disclosing, according to Child USA, a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting children. Under current law, the statute of limitations for childhood abuse expires at age 28, over two decades before childhood survivors reach the average age of disclosure.
“Fixing our laws is a critical first step. We must make it right for the countless survivors who have been failed by our laws in the past,” said Breen. “Our package would give all survivors a second opportunity to file claims against their abusers and those responsible. No survivor should be left behind, and no abuser should be protected by our laws.”
“Many survivors like me initially experience shame or denial. Our abusers condition us to accept it,” said Sydney Bakos, who was sexually assaulted on Eastern Michigan University’s campus in 2016. “In my situation, the statute of limitations had just expired by the time I discovered that EMU broke the law by creating a dangerous environment that pressured students into not reporting their abuse and protected abusers. I do not believe that institutions like EMU should be shielded from liability under these circumstances.”
According to Child USA, 27 states have enacted revival windows for expired sexual assault claims, and 17 states have eliminated civil statute of limitations for some or all child sexual abuse claims.