A proposal to change the state's juvenile justice laws is set to head to the North Dakota House floor next week after members of Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the measure following testimony from parents of juvenile sexual assault victims.
Children and parents, including a Fargo family who says their 4-year-old daughter was raped by a 13-year-old boy when they left her in the care of family friends, shared their stories with state lawmakers at the Capitol on Wednesday.
"They need to put a face to why all of these parents are here today sharing their story," said Rosa Strubbe, whose daughter stood next to her when she testified. "Unfortunately, (my daughter) is going to be that face."
Rosa and Ryan Strubbe of Fargo are among the proposed change's most prominent backers. The couple in January posted a video on Facebook calling for change and describing what happened to their daughter. The eight-minute video has been viewed more than 200,000 times.
Juvenile court cases are not public, but according to the Strubbe family, the 13-year-old boy was charged with rape and sentenced to a year of supervised probation and therapy.
The family says they feel let down by the state's criminal justice system. Others also testified that the juvenile justice system failed them when their children were victimized.
Supporters want greater access to juvenile court records to help them understand more about what their child went through. They also want schools to have information on children with a history of sexually violent behavior.
North Dakota House Bill 1520 would mandate delinquent juvenile offenders found guilty of gross sexual imposition to be placed at a juvenile detention facility for 21 days to undergo psycho-sexual evaluation that would be reviewed by a court. It also would mandate risk assessments of minors accused of sexual misconduct.
The law would also add parents of juvenile sex crime victims to the list of people who can review juvenile criminal records, which are tightly protected under state law.
Detractors say the proposed changes would undermine due process and privacy for juveniles accused of crimes.
"What's happening in the juvenile court is the good work of the court and the system to make sure its youngest citizens are being taken care of and not being overly punished . . . having their lives ruined," Grand Forks criminal defense attorney Ted Sandberg told WDAY News in late January.
Bill sponsor Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said the bill will see floor debate next week.