LANSING, Mich. — Physical and occupational therapists and athletic trainers will now be required to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect under a new Michigan law that follows the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal.
Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the legislation this week, which comes more than four years after Nassar, a former sports physician who treated athletes at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, was sentenced to virtual life imprisonment for his conviction for child pornography and sexual abuse of athletes.
During victim impact statements in 2018, several athletes testified that in Nassar’s more than two decades of sexual abuse, they had told adults what was going on, including coaches and athletic trainers, and that had not been reported.
Therapists and trainers join other professionals previously required to report suspicion or knowledge of abuse, including doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, school administrators, family therapists and school counsellors. These professions are expected to be able to identify signs of abuse and know how to report them.
Anyone can report to child protective services if they think a child is being abused or neglected, but new legislation adds physiotherapists and occupational therapists, athletic trainers and physiotherapy assistants to the professionals required to do it.
Previous forms of the legislation have been criticized for not including coaches on the list of mandatory journalists. One concern was the vague definition of coaches, who can sometimes be part-time workers or simply volunteers.
Former Michigan State University gymnastics coach Kathie Klages was sentenced to 90 days in prison in August 2020 for felony charges of lying to police about her knowledge of sexual abuse by Nasar.
But the state appeals court overturned his conviction, ruling that nothing Klages told investigators was “Equipment” to the Attorney General’s investigation into the university’s handling of Nassar’s abuses in terms of prevention.
The decision did not challenge the testimony of Larissa Boyce and a woman wishing to remain anonymous to the public who said that when they were teenagers in 1997, they told Klages that Nassar had abused them and that Klages had made them afraid to report abuse.
The Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence supports the expansion of mandatory reporters, but believes it is incomplete without including coaches, executive director Sarah Prout Rennie said.
In sports where children are separated from their parents for long periods of time, coaches may be the only person who can help them, she said.
“These people often serve as parental figures,” said Prout Rennie. “These people are really the only people they have access to come forward. They really need to be responsible for reporting sexual assaults.
What Nassar did and what the victims endured is tragic, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Roger Hauck, but the state must learn from what happened and fix it for this to happen. does not happen again.
“I am so sorry for all the victims” said the Republican lawmaker. “Hopefully that will be a strong deterrent to someone doing this, especially when you have athletic trainers in the room and you see what’s going on.”