In Michigan, few prosecuted for failing to report child abuse

(WXYZ) - Adults who fail to report suspected abuse of children are seldom punished in Michigan, a 7 Action News investigation has found.

Michigan’s mandatory reporter law, which requires teachers, doctors and other professionals that regularly interact with children to report suspected abuse, has led to charges only 69 times since 1990 statewide—not even 3 prosecutions per year.

Of those cases, only 17 have led to a conviction.

"We don’t mean it when we say we’re out to protect them,” said Bill Seikaly, who has represented scores of children and teens that were victims of sexual abuse.

“Do you think there are only 17 cases in the last 30 years of failing to report?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.

“I’ve handled more than that from a civil point of view,” Seikaly said. “I can prove it’s happened more often, just in this office."

Over more than two decades, at least 14 representatives of MSU are said to have been told about Larry Nassar’s repeated sexual assaults. They didn’t stop him and, in all but one case, there’s no evidence that they reported him.

“How many little girls could been spared from this lifelong battle if someone at the university had just done the bare minimum and listened?” asked Morgan McCaul last month at Nassar’s sentencing.

Larissa Boyce, who says she was repeatedly molested by Nassar, said she reported the abuse to MSU’s then gymnastics coach Kathie Klages in 1997.

“I told her that I was uncomfortable with what he was doing, his fingers were going inside me,” Boyce recalled in 2017.  “She responded that I must be reading into what he was doing or misunderstanding what he was doing…Kathie just still couldn’t believe it, her good friend who she thought she knew couldn’t be something like that."

While states like Florida have made failing to report abuse a felony that can put you in prison for years—Michigan offers among the lightest punishments in the county: a maximum penalty of just 93 days in jail.

“It’s shocking when you hear that,” said attorney Mick Grewal, who represents more than 80 of former MSU sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar’s victims.  “You can’t have a 93-day penalty to deter somebody,”  he said.

While the law lists more than 20 other professionals as mandated reporters, positions like coaches and trainers are never mentioned.  That means the Michigan State coaches and trainers alleged to have been told about Nassar’s abuses may not, under Michigan law, have had to report them.

In Lansing, a bill was just introduced to add coaches and trainers to the list of mandatory reporters.  But it would not add tougher penalties for those who fail to report abuse. 

“We’re talking about children,” Seikaly said. “You would think those would be the people we most want to protect.”

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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