The Word from Lansing: Standing Up Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

Photo by CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis ReviewPhoto credit

In the document When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women, the U.S. bishops wrote that “violence against another person in any form fails to treat that person as someone worthy of love.” Each person has been made in the image and likeness of God, each deserving of respect, regardless of their gender, race, income level, or other characteristics. No one deserves to be treated with violence, whether the abuse is physical, sexual, or emotional.

During the month of May, Pope Francis has asked Catholics to join him in praying for the dignity of women to be respected in all aspects of life. He urges individuals to “condemn sexual violence against women and remove the barriers that prevent their full integration into social, political, and economic life.” His prayers bring to light a reality of the violence women face, as here in Michigan, ninety-seven percent of the reported 3,016 sexual assault victims and seventy-one percent of the 91,147 reported domestic violence victims were women in 2014.

At the same time, Pope Francis and the Catholic Church recognize sexual assault and domestic violence are not only tragedies women face. All victims, whether female or male, should be listened to and supported fully. They deserve a chance to be heard, not blamed or judged. The Church must continue to help connect victims of crime with support services that will help them heal. These people are not numbers — they are individuals with their own experiences and hopes for the future.

In addition to the pope bringing attention to these important issues, the Michigan Legislature has recently approved a package of bills addressing sexual assault and domestic violence, which Governor Rick Snyder has signed into law. The measures amend current policy to better protect the privacy of victims and hold accountable individuals who commit these crimes. The newly enacted laws, Public Acts 87–88, 91, and 93–96 of 2016, prohibit mediation in certain domestic relation cases, provide alternative means to serve papers on one whose address is confidential, allow a Personal Protection Order (PPO) to ban one from harming or taking another’s pet, and increase penalties for those who assault a pregnant woman. They also protect survivors of sexual assault when a pregnancy results, by allowing the custody rights or parenting time of that child conceived in rape to be prohibited for the offending parent. These measures, supported throughout the legislative process by Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), have the tools to assist victims. MCC expects additional legislative protections will be forthcoming before the end of 2016.

Community members across Michigan can also work to change the culture around sexual assault and domestic violence. Too often victims keep these crimes private, at times out of fear, shame, or well-intended efforts to preserve their families or protect those they love. Education about these issues is critical. When recognizing April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Governor Snyder stated that the goal was to “educate our community about sexual violence prevention, supporting survivors and speaking out against harmful attitudes and actions.” To learn more or to report possible incidences, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800.799.7233 or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.4673.

While policy work continues, MCC would like to acknowledge the impact of Michigan’s recently passed laws, as well as the bipartisan fashion in which the bill sponsors and lawmakers came together to support victims. This collaboration is an example of how policymakers can come together to solve matters facing society. The new laws help the people of Michigan to be treated as they should be, as persons worthy of love.