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Sexual assault survivor support bills receive first hearing

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

A pair of Michigan bills aimed at supporting survivors of sexual assault received a hearing Tuesday before the state House Criminal Justice Committee.

One bill would give survivors the right to have a support person and a lawyer with them during any investigation interviews.

Emily Meinke is a survivor of abuse by former athletics doctor Larry Nassar. She says her attorney helped give her comfort during that investigation.

“He provided me with a sense of calm and confidence and helped me think clearly when my emotions were all over the place, fluctuating between anger, sadness, shame, worry and more. Survivors deserve this confidence throughout every single step of the investigation process,” Meinke told the committee.

The bill would also give survivors the right to a counselor and attorney during the administration of a sexual assault evidence kit.

But the legislation would lay out certain exceptions for that right to support if law enforcement believes it would be “detrimental to the purpose of the interview.”

State Representative Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp) said that exemption is one of the concerns advocates have about the bill.

Brixie said another concern came from the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board.

The bill, as written, would give the board 18 months to conduct a study on sexual assaults and the availability of counselors, and create a report.

Bill sponsors said the board had concerns about the extra reporting requirement that would likely be removed from the bill in a future draft.

“The board does really important work that aligns with our goals here, so we didn’t want to be punitive by assigning onerous report collections and data analysis,” Brixie said.

The other bill heard in committee Tuesday would allow survivors to take a free shower at a hospital, if one is available, after undergoing a sexual assault evidence kit.

Representative Jennifer Conlin (D-Ann Arbor) said it’s about treating survivors with dignity.

“The hospital experience is already traumatizing enough. We should allow individuals to wash themselves clean of the crimes that were committed against them,” Conlin said.

Both bills remain in committee.

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Colin Jackson | MPRN