BISMARCK — Gov. Doug Burgum has signed a bill into law that aims to improve victim and treatment services in juvenile sexual assault cases after a Fargo family pushed for the changes in the North Dakota Legislature.
Rosa and Ryan Strubbe have been advocating to change the state's juvenile justice laws after their 4-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted by a juvenile in September 2018.
House Bill 1520 includes these changes:
- The state social services department will have greater jurisdiction in cases where a minor commits a sex crime against another minor.
- The Department of Human Services also will be able to go into a juvenile offender's home to determine if the offender is a threat to others and plan accordingly.
- Parents of juvenile sex crime victims will now be able to look at a juvenile offender's records after medical and educational information have been redacted.
The law will take effect Aug. 1. Rosa Strubbe said it has been a long journey.
"(It's been) absolutely exhausting but so worthwhile because . . . HB 1520 is going to help so many now, I can't even put it into words," Rosa Strubbe said. "It's going to allow for parents to have access to information, and for law enforcement to do their job and social services can get involved and help these kids and their families."
The Strubbes 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, and that the state's existing laws kept them from accessing documents related to the case.
While juvenile court cases are not public, the boy was charged with rape, according to the Strubbes, who say he was sentenced to a year of supervised probation and therapy.
Dissatisfied with the sentence and their experience with the state's justice system, the family started working to change the law, advocating for legislation introduced by state Rep. Ben Koppelmann, R-West Fargo.
The bill received unanimous support in both the Senate and House and an amended version was signed by Gov. Burgum last week.
While the new law grants access to offender information, it makes sharing information found in the juvenile records a Class B misdemeanor.
The law also requires courts to send juveniles who have committed sexual offenses to have their behavior assessed in an evaluation lasting no longer than 30 days. Treatment of the offender would be based on assessment findings.
If a law enforcement agency determines a minor age 10 or older has committed a sexual offense against another minor, it will be required to provide a report to the Department of Human Services.