Survivors of Larry Nassar, Robert Anderson testify in support of new sexual assault bills

Survivors of both Larry Nassar and Robert Anderson are joining forces in their advocacy of legislation designed to empower victims of sexual abuse and ease the processes that have limited some people's ability to pursue justice against university employees accused of sexual assault. 

A pair of bills that address the time that a victim will have to report abuse inflicted on them would extend the statute of limitations.

"I would like for it to be infinite. I would love for that to be the case, but we have to start somewhere," said Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit), who spoke during a press conference ahead of a committee hearing for bills HB 4306 and 4307.

Speaking alongside Whitsett was a sponsor of one of the bills, Rep. Ryan Berman (R-Commence Twp.), along with sexual abuse survivors that planned to offer testimony about their experiences with Anderson and Nasser.

Trinea Gonczar is a gymnast in Lansing and an advocate of sexual abuse victims. John Vaughn played football for the University of Michigan. Both discussed their past experiences as victims. 

"I'm here today for the voices that feel like they haven't been heard, can't be heard, because no one wants to talk about their abuse," Vaughn said. "But I think once you survive it, you want to help others going from dark places to the light."

The bipartisan bills aimed at helping potentially thousands of sex abuse victims sue for damages. It's the second time since 2018 that legislators may overhaul laws in the wake of a major abuse scandal. 

Under the new measures, victims of the late Dr. Robert Anderson and others would get additional time to bring lawsuits. Government entities couldn't use the immunity defense if they knew or should have known of prior sexual misconduct and didn't intervene. 

Similar government immunity legislation stalled three years ago — after Michigan State agreed to a $500 million settlement for Nassar’s victims — amid pushback from universities, schools, municipalities, businesses and the Catholic Church over the financial implications of facing an unknown number of suits for old allegations. Opposition could form again.

"I’m not trying to push the scales of justice in one way or another. I just think that these survivors deserve their day in court," said Rep. Ryan Berman, a Republican from Oakland County’s Commerce Township who is sponsoring the immunity bill.

Three years ago, the law was changed so Nassar victims could sue retroactively and people who were sexually abused as children could pursue legal action until their 28th birthday or three years from when they realize they have been abused. Whitsett’s legislation would expand the option to adults and let them file suit until whenever is later: 10 years from when the claim accrues, their 28th birthday or six years — instead of three — from when they realize they have been abused.

John Vaughn, former U-M football player and Trinea Gonczar, a gymnast in Lansing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report