FARGO — A Fargo family wants to change North Dakota juvenile justice law after a minor recently sentenced for sexually assaulting their daughter faced what they say was inadequate punishment for the offense.
Legislation has been introduced to overhaul the state's laws regarding sexual assault and juvenile justice, and Rosa and Ryan Strubbe of Fargo are its most prominent backers.
The Strubbes, who talked to WDAY-TV in an on-camera interview, say their 4-year-old daughter was raped three times by a 13-year-old boy when they left her in the care of family friends for five hours in September 2018.
"No 4-year-old should know anything about sex and ours does," mother Rosa Strubbe said.
Their daughter's attacker was charged and sentenced, but the family says they feel let down by the state's criminal justice system.
The couple posted a video on Facebook calling for reform and outlining what happened to their daughter. The eight-minute video on Facebook has been viewed more than 100,000 times and shared 1,800 times since it was posted Jan. 29.
While juvenile court cases are not public, the 13-year-old boy was charged with rape, according to the Strubbes. He was recently sentenced to a year of supervised probation and therapy, they said.
But the family isn't satisfied with the sentence.
"That's not justice — that's a slap on the wrist," Rosa Strubbe said.
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.
Strubbe said it's frustrating that many of the police reports are off limits to them, and that it makes it difficult to help their daughter overcome what happened.
"How do we help her if we don't know what to help her through?" she said.
Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, one of the legislators who introduced the bill, says the proposed changes would bring justice to victims, would better protect society and would provide rehabilitation for the accused.
But detractors say the proposed reforms would undermine due process and privacy for juveniles accused of crimes.
"The juvenile court system does not exist for revenge; it exists to protect the process and everyone's rights," said Grand Forks criminal defense attorney Ted Sandberg.
Sandberg has more than a decade of experience prosecuting and defending juveniles in courts across the country. He calls the bill dangerous.
"It should worry juvenile court professionals, because it is stripping away privacy," he said.
Sandberg said North Dakota has one of the best juvenile court systems in the country. It's overseen by a handful of experts and aims to reform juvenile offenders into functioning adult members of society.
"The privacy is not there in the juvenile court to hide what's going on, it's not some dark art going on behind closed doors," Sandberg said. "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."
Still, the Strubbes say they plan fight hard for their daughter and for other young victims.
Koppelman said the legislation will likely be called for a hearing on the House floor in a few weeks.
InForum Digital News Producer Alex Derosier contributed to this report.