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Senate bills would create sexual assault ombudsman, provide help for survivors

state capitol building in lansing, michigan at night
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A package of bills introduced this week in the state Senate seeks to help young people understand sexual assault and help survivors of sexual assault manage the process of seeking justice.

The bills would require the state to develop age-appropriate materials on sexual assault for students.

“The students that I’ve talked to just have literally never got anything provided to them in the way of educational material about what sexual assault is,” said Senator Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), who is a bill sponsor. “We have nothing.”

She told Michigan Public Radio there are critical gaps in both age-appropriate information on sexual assault and assistance for high school and college students. She said that includes understanding their rights, how to find help, and what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

“We know far too often sexual assault survivors are not believed when they tell their story,” she said. “They might never choose to report and we know that there are so many cases where sexual assault is just not reported because they don’t feel believed or because they think nothing is going to change, or because they won’t be able to get help.”

State Senator Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) has sponsored a bill to create a state sexual assault resource officer in the Michigan Department of Civil Rights “…that can be an advocate and begin to ask questions on behalf of victims and make sure that the process is moving in an expedient fashion as universities and colleges go through investigations and so forth on campus.”

Also, the legislation would establish clearer guidelines on what constitutes sexual assault “under the pretext of medical treatment.”

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.