TROY, Mich. (WXYZ) — One family's six-year-long push for change is getting some attention in Lansing, with a committee hearing scheduled Tuesday.
The bill, sometimes referred to as "Justice for Allie," would make it a crime for internet predators to target vulnerable adults.
The bill is inspired by Allie Hayes, a young woman from Troy who has Down syndrome and fell victim to an online predator six years ago.
The man who exploited her was charged under an obscure law but spent less than a week in jail. However, this bill would make his specific offense a violation of state law, and the Hayes family says it’s long overdue.
“I didn’t know what to do," Hayes recounted. "Felt useless.”
It takes a lot of courage for a young woman like Hayes to speak about what happened six years ago, but she says it’s something she’s willing to do if it helps others like her.
“I want them to feel safe and just be themselves,” Hayes said.
Six years ago, a then-teenage Hayes was in her bedroom when she got a message on social media from a young man also from Troy. In just 11 minutes, he coerced her into sending multiple sexually explicit images, knowing she had Down syndrome.
“When we look at her bedroom and recall that day and the photos, we can't believe an assault happened in our house and the predator did not come through our front door,” Hayes' mother Dawn said.
Allie Hayes' parents Dawn and Mark were heartbroken when they made the discovery. They called Troy police, who found she was coerced and exploited. But since she was 18 years old, legally, she was a consenting adult.
"I was immediately filled with anger and disbelief," Mark Hayes said. "We just had to figure out a way to fix it and make it better.”
Wearing "Protect the Vulnerable" shirts, the Hayes family and an army of supporters have pushed for a new bill to protect all vulnerable adults, including those who have dementia or other cognitive disabilities. They testified in front of two state House committees hoping to get "Allie’s law" passed.
“What happened to Allie should have been charged, should have had a big penalty, but it didn't because there’s a loophole in our law,” state Rep. Sharon MacDonell, D-Troy, said.
This session, MacDonnel proposed the Justice for Allie legislation again, which she says has exceptions for vulnerable adults who share consensual images. It’s similar to laws other states have in place.
“Thirty-two other states have already figured out that this is a loophole they have to close," MacDonell said. "So, it’s time for Michigan to step up and get this done and protect vulnerable adults in Michigan.”
Despite the challenges of the last six years including Allie Hayes seeing a therapist and being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she and her parents say they will keep fighting until Allie’s bill officially becomes a law.
"None of this would happen without Allie, so I applaud her strength and look forward to her moving forward,” Mark Hayes said.
The Hayes family will be testifying before the Families, Children and Seniors committee Tuesday at noon in Lansing.