Abuse reporting bill should help make campuses safer

The Michigan Legislature is taking a look at ways to improve the reporting of and reaction to sexual misconduct allegations on college campuses across the state with some recently proposed legislation that, among other things, would require notification of such accusations to the university’s top officials.

It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances that have brought a proposal like this one to the forefront, but we have to see it as a positive step forward in curbing these unconscionable actions that have pervaded and persisted for much too long in higher educational institutions.

By now, essentially everyone has heard the heart-wrenching stories told by the victims of Larry Nassar, the notorious monster of a doctor who was accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of girls and young women when he — in our opinion — posed as a professional physician at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics over the past several years. That scandal shines a light on how much power and sway a few rotten authority figures can have, as well as what an ugly train wreck of checks and balances look like when there’s a serious systemic breakdown in procedures, oversight and accountability.

Reports have shown that many of these victims told someone about the abuse they experienced at Nassar’s will, but little was done and the phony physician continued to prey on girls and young women under the guise of medical treatment.

A budget bill moving through the House would increase state funding for universities by 1 percent in 2019, but if universities fail to meet new Title IX requirements, they could lose up to 10 percent in operational funding from the state.

The House budget bill seeks to prohibit universities from using in-house medical experts in Title IX investigations or releasing divergent investigatory reports, according to a story in The Detroit News. Meanwhile, universities could face penalties by seeking compensation for procedures performed by medical professionals convicted of a felony or if they fail to use third-party investigators in claims against an employee who’s been accused multiple times.

“The simple truth is, we cannot allow something this serious to be mishandled ever again,” Rep. Kim LaSata, R-Bainbridge Township, who chairs the House’s budget subcommittee, told the News.

The Associated Press reported that a similar bill moving through the Senate would provide a 1 percent funding increase for universities to create or improve efforts on sexual assault prevention, student mental health and campus safety programs.

Both pieces of legislation reportedly require that notification be sent to members of the universities’ governing boards, and that verification of review be made by those top officials.

MSU trustees said they were unaware of the accusations against Nassar until he was fired in 2016, the AP reported, and state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., a Democrat from East Lansing, said one reason victims have not come forward is because they feared their allegations wouldn’t be taken seriously.

“If they know that the leadership of the university is going to get knowledge of each of these cases, they’ll know that somebody should be taking it seriously,” he said in the AP story. “It’s a strong statement from the Legislature that we want these cases to be looked at and taken seriously.”

We trust each allegation would be handled appropriately, and that each accused individual would be given the due process he or she deserves and not be convicted before a proper investigation determines it’s warranted.

That being said, any alleged victim must feel confident that his or her voice will be heard if a claim of sexual misconduct is made, and there needs to be a clear understanding that anyone who hears the complaint won’t simply turn a blind eye.