Lawmakers listen to Clara City, Minn., mother's plea in considering Jacob's law
CLARA CITY -- Sarah Guggisberg is speaking up so that young victims of sexual abuse do not have to suffer in silence.
Lawmakers are listening.
The Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee in the Minnesota House of Representatives advanced "Jacob's Law,'' a bill being championed by the Clara City mother. Guggisberg told her story to committee members on Feb. 2 in St. Paul. They were receptive to her plea to require that both parents be notified when a child is the alleged victim of neglect, physical or sexual abuse.
The Jacob's Law legislation now goes to the Judiciary Committee in the House, where it could be heard late next week. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate by Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls.
The legislation in the House is authored by Rep. Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar. It requires law enforcement agencies to notify a local human service agency if a child is the alleged victim of neglect, physical or sexual abuse. The human service office is obligated to inform both parents.
The legislation also makes notification by one spouse to the other a requirement of custody agreements in divorces.
Although she is the custodial parent, Guggisberg said she was not notified when her son was abused in 2005 at age 5 by a juvenile offender in Lyon County. Lyon County authorities had informed her ex-husband, she said.
Her son had suffered silently and attempted suicide four times. Guggisberg could not get help for Jacob until she learned about the abuse in 2009.
"The committee members were definitely moved by it, and that's what made a strong impact,'' said Rep. Vogel of Guggisberg's testimony.
The original legislation would also have required law enforcement to notify parents, but Vogel decided to remove that portion of the bill. He said law enforcement officers were concerned about the data privacy challenges they would face in contacting both parents.
Vogel said the legislation will need one other modification to address a concern raised during the Feb. 2 hearing. There were concerns the notification requirement could violate an order for protection or reveal the whereabouts of a spouse in protective custody.
Vogel believes those issues can be addressed. He is optimistic the bill will win final approval on its own. He noted it has bipartisan support. Rep. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, is among the co-authors.
Guggisberg is a single mother of five and full-time student. She said her efforts last year to get answers about why she was not informed about her son's abuse fell largely on deaf ears, until she launched a Facebook page telling of her ordeal.
She quickly generated more than 17,000 "friends'' on the page and the attention needed to get things done. She would like to see Jacob's Law approved in all states.
As painful as her family's experience has been, Guggisberg said she has no hesitation about telling the story to legislators and others. "If I can help one kid, then it was worth it,'' she said.
"It heals because you're helping other people. Because no family should have to through this. Jacob could have gotten help in 2005.''