An event Wednesday continued local observances of April as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, with Michigan’s top law enforcement officer visiting Livingston County to mark the occasion.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel toured LACASA Center, whose mission is to help victims of interpersonal violence, as part of Denim Day observances.
This international event was created in 1999 after an Italian court overturned a rape conviction, stating that because the victim wore tight jeans, she must have helped her assailant remove them, implying she consented. LACASA officials say the message behind Denim Day is that it doesn’t matter what you are wearing, or your actions, there is no justification for sexual assault.
Each year, around the anniversary date of the court’s ruling, organizations, businesses, elected officials, and people around the world wear blue jeans to raise awareness about sexual assault, consent and victim-blaming.
Nessel was given a personal tour of LACASA Center’s domestic violence shelter by President and CEO Bobette Schrandt, who presented Nessel with a Changemaker Award after noting her commitment to victim’s rights.
“Her office is working to actively protect sexual assault victims from an online company selling at home “Me Too” test kits for sexual assault,” she said. “Michigan is demanding that this product not be sold in our state because do-it-yourself evidence collection will not stand up in court. Under Dana’s leadership, the attorney general’s office continues its fight for transparency and cooperation and its ongoing investigation into sexual abuse by the clergy in Michigan’s seven Catholic dioceses. And just last month her office unveiled the state’s first first charges in an ongoing investigation into allegations of child abuse within the Boy Scouts of America.”
The Howell Township facility not only contains the organization’s offices, but also serves as a state-of-the-art domestic violence shelter which provide a secure setting for survivors of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault. The 20-bed Crisis Shelter offers survivors and their children a home-like setting with both private and shared guest rooms, a fully equipped community kitchen, large dining area, a living room, multimedia den, and a serenity room.
The shelter also contains a Safe Pet Place with two kennel areas, one for dogs and another for cats and other animals. LACASA Center was one of the first domestic violence shelters in the nation to offer a home for family pets, a fact Nessel noted and said having the capacity to bring pets is a great asset as many abuse victims are afraid to leave their situations out of fear about what might happen to their beloved pets.
Nessel also noted LACASA’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program which provided the ability to perform an assault exam away from emergency rooms, which normally require long waits in a public setting and medical where insurance information is required, which can be a deterrent to accurate and timely reporting.
“There’s only a few ERs in Livingston, where lots of people know each other and all the rest,” she said. “But you have that be someplace you can go to right on site…you get the counseling, you get the sexual assault kit test, you have all of the other resources all in the exact same place, all you have to do is walk five or ten feet to get all the resources you need instead of basically giving someone a pamphlet and saying ‘Go over there and maybe they can help you.’ And to have the same people that are working with you and assigned to your case, it makes all the difference in the world.”
When asked a question about classroom education programs to help break the cycle of child abuse, Nessel took the opportunity to comment on a recent controversy prompted by a local lawmaker over what should and should not be taught in classrooms.
“I think I’m probably in Lana Theis’ district right now, and I wanna say how important it is when we talk about like certain things that you can never say in a classroom; if you can’t ever have communications about anything that is sexual in nature, what that means is you can’t talk about how to prevent being abused.”
Nessel was referring to the issue that became national news last week when Sen. Theis gave an invocation in which she said that children are “under attack” from “forces that desire things for them other than what their parents would have them see and hear and know,” prompting a walkout by several Senate Democrats who were protesting what they saw as a deliberate reference to proposed legislation modeled on the Florida measure known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
That controversial Florida bill allows parents to sue school districts if their child is exposed to instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity deemed to not be “age-appropriate.”
Theis then sent out a fundraising email claiming the Democrats who walked out are “trolls” and “groomers” that “sexualize” children, points of view that are in line with those who adhere to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory.
Nessel said that her concern is that to completely stymie all discussion surrounding these topics would harm efforts to prevent child abuse.
“It would lend itself to a child being abused because they don’t know the names of their body parts, which is a big deal,” she said. “It’s a big deal. You know, they don’t know what’s appropriate or not appropriate. And so this kind of education, my fear is that with any of these bills or the potential proposals, and I know they’re coming to Michigan, right? Is that if you say we are gonna tell teachers, they can’t talk about the following subjects. I think it is gonna affect your ability to convey this information. This education is very important to children, so they know how to be an advocate for themselves, know how to stand up if they’re being abused and it’s so important that we do that at a young age.
She then closed out her remarks with a direct statement to Theis.
“Senator, if you’re listening to this, please let’s make sure that whatever we’re doing, we’re ensuring that children can be taught to protect themselves. That’s what we’re talking about. And if you really care about the health, safety, and wellbeing, both physically and emotionally of children. We have to give kids the proper education to protect themselves.”