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Michigan lawmakers revive effort to nearly double sex abuse statute of limitations

The Michigan legislature on Tuesday introduced a bipartisan bill that would give sexual abuse victims more time to file damages lawsuits as the state seeks to overhaul its laws again after multiple sex abuse scandals.

The bill, which was introduced to the commission on Tuesday afternoon, would extend the civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse victims from 28 to 52. If passed, the victim will be able to file a lawsuit retroactively for two years regardless of the time limit.

The new measure will give victims such as the late Dr. Robert Anderson of the University of Michigan additional time to file lawsuits previously barred by the statute of limitations. An agency cannot invoke an immunity defense if it knew, or should have known, of the defendant’s past sexual misconduct and failed to intervene.

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In 2018, the state of Michigan extended the statute of limitations to 28 years after the conviction of Larry Nassar, who sexually abused hundreds of female athletes under the guise of medical treatment at Michigan State University and elsewhere.

Proponents cite research showing that many victims don’t come forward until they’re in their 50s, a deadline that negates a delayed trial for many victims who still harbor trauma. claims. Vermont, Maine, and Maryland have eliminated statutes of limitations on child sex crimes lawsuits.

Many of the reforms began in response to reports of abuses across the United States by Roman Catholic clergy going back decades. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel launched an investigation into sexual abuse by a Roman Catholic clergy in 2019, resulting in eight convictions.

Greg D’Alessandro and Brian Hartekant spoke publicly to the Associated Press on Monday for the first time about the abuse they suffered decades ago at the hands of Catholic priests. Due to the Michigan statute of limitations, they are unable to file a civil suit.

D’Alessandro, now 45, has accused two priests of sexual abuse while he was a student on the Detroit subway between the ages of 9 and 13. D’Alessandro said he had repressed memories of his abuse for years, but only recently, after hours of therapy, he began to understand what happened to him as a child.

Sexual assault victims Brian Hartekant and Greg D’Alessandro testified Monday in support of a bipartisan effort to significantly extend Michigan’s statute of limitations in sexual abuse cases. (AP Photo/Joey Cappelletti)

“I don’t know what it is if it’s not the worst for a human being to have a child in the name of another human being, especially God,” D’Alessandro said in a telephone interview.

Both priests, Mr. Lawrence Wentrein and Mr. Timothy Schott, were found unquestionably accused by the Archdiocese of Detroit. Zott, who is now dead, was sentenced to 18 months of probation after filing a child pornography complaint in 2003.

Wentrein’s education-restricted counselor’s license was revoked by a state commission in 2019. But Mr Nessel said at the time that “the statute of limitations precludes prosecution of any crimes allegedly committed by Mr Wentrane”.

The Associated Press could not reach Bentrein for comment on the allegations.

Hartekant, now 56, said the abuse began when she was 13 after her brother’s death. Priest James Martin Novak oversaw his brother’s funeral and acted as his grief therapist. According to Hartekant, the sexual abuse began in sixth grade and continued through ninth grade.

In 2019, St. Thérèse’s Church in Lansing released a list of 17 priests, including Novak, who were duly accused of child abuse. There were 73 indictments against priests. Novak was not immediately available for comment from the Associated Press.

“We were children who grew up being sexually abused,” Hartekant said. “We deserve justice in court.”

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A House committee held off a vote on the bill on Tuesday after several Democrats expressed their desire to amend the bill to eliminate the civil statute of limitations altogether. Jamie White, a lawyer representing Hartekant and D’Alessandro, said they would continue to work with lawmakers on reforms.

The package will also create a “Survivor Bill of Rights” that, among other things, should inform survivors of their rights to access advocates, attorneys, counselors and other support as they navigate the reporting process.

This is the third time the bill has been introduced in the Michigan legislature, but the first since Democrats took full control of the legislature and the governor’s office earlier this year.

There has been pushback from universities, schools, local governments, businesses and the Catholic Church over the economic impact of facing an unknown number of lawsuits on old allegations.


The Michigan Catholic Conference, the church’s voice in the state on public policy, opposed the bill in a statement provided to The Associated Press, calling it “unjustifiable for public and private bodies to defend decades-old claims.” will be required to do so,” he said.

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