Governor honors sexual assault survivors at vigil

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the 31st Annual Crime Victims’ Vigil, April 17, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

More than five years ago, now-Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shared her emotional story on the Michigan Senate floor about being raped, something some of her friends and even her father didn’t know until that day.

This week, Whitmer has spoken at events to honor other survivors of sexual assault, including the 31st Annual Crime Victims’ Vigil Wednesday evening in the Michigan Capitol rotunda.

The Michigan Capitol rotunda | Susan J. Demas

“I will tell you that the most powerful thing I’ve seen as a legislator, as a former prosecutor, as a survivor myself, and as your governor, is a person or a family who’s turned grief or loss or surviving into a cause to protect others — to help others,” she said.

Whitmer noted that she attended on Tuesday the opening for the Michigan State University art exhibit related to the survivors of the Dr. Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, “Finding Our Voice: Sister Survivors Speak.”

“And I was so moved by the stories that I heard and so determined to make sure that as we chart our state’s future, as we work to make our communities and our homes and our college campuses … safer for people, that the work that the people in this room right now is critical to making sure that we do it in a mindful way that actually solves problems,” she said.

Justice Elizabeth Clement speaks at the 31st Annual Crime Victims’ Vigil, April 17, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

Several Michigan public officials, as well as those who had lost a loved one to violence, spoke at the event.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Clement said the court is “responsible for the administration of justice and all of our trial courts. And our job is to work with the trial courts and make sure that there’s access to justice and victims and survivors are part of that process. And they need a voice in that process.”

Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark, who is working on the MSU and Catholic church sexual abuse investigations, gave remarks on behalf of Attorney General Dana Nessel, who stressed her “commitment to victims and her appreciation for all that the people in this room have done.”

State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) said this was her first time at the event.

Sen. Stephanie Chang speaks at the 31st Annual Crime Victims’ Vigil, April 17, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

“My career has really focused on working with and advocating for those whose voices aren’t heard,” she said, adding that it’s important not to forget that “violence changes lives.”

House Judiciary Committee Chair Graham Filler (R-DeWitt) worked in the Michigan attorney general’s office before being elected last year.

“I hope my work in the House of Representatives honors the victims, the advocates and the law enforcement folks to work on behalf of you,” he said.

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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