Eastern Michigan University professors testify before Michigan lawmakers to call for modernized laws that protect vulnerable adults against online predators

Christina Marsack-Topolewski
Christina Marsack-Topolewski
Annemarie Kelly
Annemarie Kelly

YPSILANTI – Two professors from Eastern Michigan University’s College of Health and Human Services spoke to Michigan lawmakers in Lansing, advocating for new state laws to protect vulnerable adults with disabilities against online exploitation, abuse, aggression, and bullying.

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, Assistant Professor Annemarie Kelly and Associate Professor Christina Marsack-Topolewski, testified before the Michigan House Judiciary Committee. The testimony was broadcast live over public television and online.

Speaking in support of House Bills 4159 and 4160, Kelly and Marsack-Topolewski implored legislators to modernize state laws to deter online abusers and hold perpetrators legally accountable for abuses against vulnerable adults.  Kelly and Marsack-Topolewski analyzed the scientific, statistical, and legal bases for this new legislation. They demonstrated that vulnerable adults face the highest risk of exploitation by online predators.

The professors also discussed why Michigan needs to close the gap in current laws to reflect the risks associated with internet use. “Many vulnerable adults maintain social connections using the internet,”Marsack-Topolewski.“The answer to predation concerns cannot be to keep vulnerable adults from using the internet.”

“Existing Michigan laws already reflect that vulnerable adults deserve protections for in-person abuses,” Kelly said. “These bills recognize that the exchange of sexually explicit visual material without consent from all parties is internet-based predation, aggression, and bullying.” Kelly added.

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 Program Committee.

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.

October 22, 2021

Written by:
Melissa Thrasher

Media Contact:
Melissa Thrasher