LANSING, Mich. — Two victims of former sports doctor Larry Nassar criticized Michigan attorney general candidate Dana Nessel on Thursday for expressing concerns about Nassar-inspired bills under consideration in the Legislature, lending support to her opponent Pat Miles days before the state Democratic convention.
One survivor, Jessica Ann Smith, said "there is no opposing side to sexual abuse." Nessel fired back by accusing Miles, whose campaign organized the news conference, of exploiting Nassar victims.
At issue are comments Nessel made this week to Lansing-based MIRS News, after she was asked about Senate-passed bills that would, among other things, retroactively extend the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse victims to sue for damages to 1997 and prospectively give accusers until their 48th birthday to file. The time limit to bring second- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct charges would be eliminated or extended to 30 years.
Nessel, a former prosecutor who now does criminal defense work, said she needed to read the legislation but had "some concerns." She said she was "firmly" in favor of giving victims adequate time to come forward once they reach adulthood. But she also voiced reservations with people making allegations once they have been adults for "many, many years and have a long time to be able to make that report but failed to do so."
She said it is very hard for the accused to defend themselves against allegations from decades ago, and sometimes false accusations are made. Her campaign said Thursday her comments were about the proposed 30-year criminal statute of limitations.
Morgan McCaul, a Nassar victim, said she was "disgusted" with Nessel's "disqualifying" comments, saying potential challenges for defense lawyers "pale in comparison to the trauma that survivors face in the aftermath of their assaults."
Miles, a former U.S. attorney for western Michigan whose office brought charges against Nassar for possessing child pornography, said he fully supports the bills because "every victim should have their day in court even if it takes many years to get there."
Nessel accused Miles of dragging the attorney general's race "into the gutter."
"Miles is exploiting the victims of Larry Nassar to attack the person in this race who has prosecuted more criminal sexual conduct cases than all other candidates, from both parties, combined," she said. Nessel said she is a vocal advocate for the #MeToo movement.
"To the Nassar survivors who spoke out, I sincerely support your honesty and continued advocacy," Nessel said in a statement. "I regret that your important work, conducted with integrity and bravery, has been co-opted in this way."
Smith and McCaul were among more than 200 women and girls who spoke at Nassar's sentencings for molesting patients under the guise of treatment.
Democratic party members will endorse a candidate at a convention in Detroit on Sunday. Barring a twist, the winner will be officially nominated in August and face a Republican in the November general election. Democrat Bill Noakes also is running, but Nessel and Miles are the main contenders.