Michigan's Legal Options for Childhood Sexual Abuse Survivors

Michigan has expanded childhood sexual abuse survivors' ability to seek justice in court.

By , J.D. · Villanova University School of Law

Michigan is one of many states making a concerted legislative effort to enhance and expand the legal rights of survivors of childhood sexual abuse. In this article, we'll discuss changes to Michigan's deadlines for pursuing legal action over sexual abuse (in both civil and criminal court), and more.

Michigan's Statutes of Limitations for Childhood Sexual Abuse Cases

It can take many years (even decades) for survivors of sexual abuse to process the abuse incidents(s) and the resulting impact. Especially when abuse occurs in childhood, by the time a survivor is ready to take legal action against an abuser, laws called "statutes of limitations" might mean the time limit for getting a case started has already passed.

In recognition of this, Michigan's legislature passed laws increasing the amount of time childhood sexual abuse survivors had to file a civil suit, and how long prosecutors could wait before bringing criminal charges against an alleged abuser. (Learn more about taking legal action over abuse that occurred a long time ago.)

Senate Bill 872 (later known as Public Act 183) took effect in June 2018, extending the civil statutes of limitations for lawsuits over sexual abuse. Senate Bill 872 also created a temporary 90-day lookback window (now closed) for eligible survivors to bring suit, even those whose right to file a claim might have been lost.

Senate Bill 871 (later known as Public Act 182) took effect in September 2018, extending the criminal statutes of limitations for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Let's take a closer look at both of these laws.

Michigan's Deadline for Filing a Civil Lawsuit Over Sexual Abuse

If a survivor of sex abuse decides to sue the alleged perpetrator (and/or the entity that could have done more to stop or prevent the abuse, such as a church or other organization) they can bring their lawsuit without having to first file a criminal complaint.

Before 2018, most victims of childhood sexual abuse only had until the age of 19 to sue. Now, survivors have until they are 28 years old to file a civil suit. Alternatively, they have three years after discovering the sexual abuse to sue. Whichever deadline offers the survivor the most time to take civil action will apply.

Learn more about suing for harm resulting from childhood sexual abuse.

Michigan's Criminal Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Offenses

When sexual abuse or assault is committed against a minor, the amount of time for a prosecutor to file charges will depend on two main variables. These include the severity of the offense and the existence of DNA evidence. The criminal statutes of limitations in Michigan for childhood survivors of sexual abuse are as follows:

  • Criminal sexual conduct in the first degree: There is no statute of limitations.
  • Criminal sexual conduct in the second degree: The prosecutor must indict the defendant within 15 years after the alleged offense or by the survivor's 28th birthday, whichever is later.
  • Criminal sexual conduct in the third or fourth degree: The prosecutor must indict the defendant within 10 years after the alleged offense or by the survivor's 21st birthday, whichever is later.

These criminal statutes of limitations change in regards to the existence of DNA evidence. If investigators find DNA evidence of a potential suspect, but cannot identify the suspect, then the clock stops on the criminal statute of limitations. But once authorities identify the suspect, the prosecutor must issue an indictment within 10 years or by the survivor's 21st birthday, whichever is later.

Learn more about pressing criminal charges for childhood sexual abuse.

Are Michigan's Sexual Abuse Laws Retroactive?

Yes and no. As mentioned earlier, Senate Bill 872 gave survivors of sexual abuse a brief and one-time 90-day lookback window to sue the alleged perpetrator or culpable institution. This lookback window only applied if the individual met the following conditions:

  • The individual was a minor when the alleged sex abuse or assault occurred;
  • The alleged sex crime occurred after December 31, 1996, but before June 12, 2016;
  • The alleged sex crime consisted of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree; and
  • The defendant was either in a position of authority as the survivor's physician and used that authority to coerce the survivor, or the defendant gave medical treatment or an examination in a manner that is medically unacceptable or unethical.

Given the dates that applied to Senate Bill 872, this 90-day lookback window is no longer open. Therefore, these laws are no longer retroactive. Also, at no time was there a lookback window for adult victims of sexual abuse or assault.

The Michigan Crime Victim Services Commission (CVSC) Compensation Program

While not technically a legal option, survivors of sex crimes may seek financial compensation for injuries sustained from a sexual assault. Survivors can use the money to pay for expenses such as counseling, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and lost earnings. To obtain this compensation, individuals must do all of the following:

  • complete an application
  • report the incident to law enforcement
  • cooperate with a criminal investigation, and
  • make use of available health insurance coverage or any other available resources for payment of their expenses.

To learn more, visit the CVSC Compensation Program website.

Resources for Michigan Sexual Abuse Survivors

For more on the spectrum of help available to sexual abuse survivors, see our companion article Survivor Resources: Taking Action After Sexual Abuse. Michigan-specific resources can be found at the Children's Advocacy Centers of Michigan and Michigan.gov's Sexual Assault & Abuse portal.

If you're ready to talk about your lawsuit options with a Michigan attorney, you can use the chat tools available right on this page, and learn more about finding the right attorney for you and how a lawyer can help.

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