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Bill would remove statute of limitations for sexual assault

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 5, 2018

ST. CLAIR SHORES — In the wake of the conviction of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar for the sexual abuse of more than 150 women and girls in his care, a local state representative wants to make sure that victims of sexual assault have all the time they need to come forward.

“It’s way beyond time,” said state Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores. “This should have been done long ago, because anyone that’s a victim of sexual assault should have proper recourse to be able to address those complaints.

“We don’t really have a culture, currently, that allows people to feel comfortable when they come forward.”

Hertel formally introduced House Bill 5462 to the Michigan Legislature Jan. 30, which would remove the statute of limitations for felony sexual assault, including assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct.

Hertel said that the statute of limitations has already been removed for first-degree sexual assault; this would remove the limitation for second- and third-degree sexual assault.

“We have been working on this legislation, actually, for a few months, so before this has actually become a national conversation,” Hertel said. “Sexual assault, at any level, is an extremely traumatic experience. We want to make sure that we have a culture in the state of Michigan that allows anyone to feel comfortable to report these conditions.”

Currently, to be prosecuted, these crimes must be reported within 10 years or by the time the victim turns 21 years old, whichever is later, he said. 

“What we’ve seen, in many cases, is that if somebody’s forced to report it just so they can meet that statute of limitations, that sometimes leads to depression and even suicide,” Hertel said. “Sometimes it’s just as simple as their living situation. They might live in a home with someone who sexually assaulted them and they can’t get out.”

Hertel said that whenever the accusation is made, the allegations would still have to be tried in a court of law. This would just allow the filing of the complaint, he explained. The local prosecutor’s office would still have to determine if there is enough evidence to bring charges and the case would still be tried in a court of law with all the evidence available. 

With current DNA technology, Hertel said that in many cases, there is evidence available after the 10-year limit. 

“I have a huge respect for the judicial process,” he said. “I believe our judicial process allows for a fair trial, and if the evidence is there, a case can be made.”

At a national level, Congress is also taking steps to protect young athletes from sexual abuse. The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation Jan. 26 requiring athletic organizations to report allegations of sexual abuse to law enforcement within 24 hours and to establish preventative policies protecting athletes. The bill is now before the Senate.