Eastern Michigan University professors testify before Michigan lawmakers on the need for new laws to protect Vulnerable Adults against online exploitation, abuse, aggression, and bullying

Christina Marsack-Topolewski
Christina Marsack-Topolewski

YPSILANTI – Two Eastern Michigan University professors spoke to Michigan lawmakers this week on Tuesday, March 16, advocating for new state laws to protect Vulnerable Adults with disabilities against online predation.

Assistant professors Christina Marsack-Topolewski, Ph.D., LMSW and Annemarie Kelly, JD, LLM, from EMU’s College of Health and Human Services, testified before the Michigan House of Representatives Committee for Families, Seniors, and Children in Lansing on March 16. The testimony was broadcast live online and over public television.

Speaking in support of House Bills 4159 and 4160, Kelly and Marsack-Topolewski implored the Michigan Legislature to enact legal protections against online predation for Vulnerable Adults.

Marsack-Topolewski and Kelly demonstrated the scientific, statistical, and legal basis for legislative action. They articulated the reasons why Vulnerable Adults need legal safeguards against Internet predators. Marsack-Topolewski stated, “Many Vulnerable Adults maintain social connections using the Internet and they are at the highest risk for online predation. We need to adopt laws that deter abuse and hold abusers accountable.”

Annemarie Kelly
Annemarie Kelly

The professors also discussed why Michigan needs to close gaps in current laws to reflect the risks associated with Internet use. “Michigan already has laws in place to prevent in-person abuse against Vulnerable Adults,” Kelly explained. She added, “These bills modernize our laws to reflect that exploitation occurs online.”

If the bills are passed, it will become a criminal act in Michigan to threaten, intimidate, command, force, coerce, or exploit a Vulnerable Adult into providing sexually explicit material.  Under Michigan law, Vulnerable Adults include any “individual age 18 or over who, because of age, developmental disability, mental illness, or physical disability, requires supervision or personal care or lacks the personal and social skills required to live independently.” 

Professors Kelly and Marsack-Topolewski have collaborated on disability law and policy research for many years. They also work together on the Eastern Michigan University Aging Studies Faculty Committee.

Marsack-Topolewski, who teaches in the School of Social Work, can be reached at cmarsack@emich.edu. Kelly, who teaches in the School of Health Sciences, can be reached at akelly30@emich.edu.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 16,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

March 17, 2021

Written by:
Morgan Mark

Media Contact:
Morgan Mark