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Clara City, Minn., mother campaigns for parental notification after son's abuse goes unreported to her

Sarah Guggisberg, left, is shown with her son, Jacob. Guggisberg is seeking state and federal legislation that will assure that both parents are informed when there is an investigation of sexual abuse involving their children. (Submitted photo)

CLARA CITY -- Like so many young victims of sexual abuse, Jacob Gould kept it secret.

For four years.

"I wasn't aware of anything until 2009, Easter Sunday he came to me and told me,'' said his mother, Sarah Guggisberg of Clara City.

Guggisberg immediately contacted the Chippewa County Sheriff's Office. At age 6, Jacob was abused by an 11-year-old boy while Jacob visited his father on weekends in Cottonwood. The perpetrator was a neighbor of his father.

Guggisberg, Jacob's custodial parent, soon learned what the Chippewa County investigator discovered when he contacted Lyon County where the abuse occurred: The perpetrator had been brought to justice for abusing a number of youths.

"Poor Jacob, keeping this deep, dark secret and scared to tell anybody, thinking he would kill him. The boy has been in custody since right after it happened,'' Guggisberg said.

The Clara City mother is now on a campaign for what she calls "Jacob's Law.'' She wants state and federal legislation that will assure that both parents are informed when there is an investigation of sexual abuse involving their children.

Guggisberg posted a Facebook account of her family's ordeal and two weeks later had recorded more than 17,000 members. She's now attempting to collect 25,000 signatures online so that the petition for a victim-focused law can be placed before President Barack Obama.

She has also met with State Rep. Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar, a family friend and former youth pastor to the Guggisberg children. He is researching Minnesota's laws governing parental notification in cases of sexual abuse. Vogel said legislative aides are helping him determine if changes are warranted in Minnesota's laws or if the Guggisberg case is a situation where something slipped through.

It's not clear why Guggisberg was not informed of the abuse. Lyon County authorities told WCCO TV that they could not discuss the case due to laws pertaining to juveniles.

Guggisberg had primary custody of her son through this period. She and Jacob's father had divorced, and Jacob spent every other weekend with his father, according to Guggisberg.

The father had been informed of the abuse by Lyon County officials when other victims came forward and an investigation was launched. Records obtained by Guggisberg indicate that Jacob's father did not want to pursue prosecution of the boy alleged to have abused Jacob.

Guggisberg is frustrated but most of all angry. Her son attempted suicide and had struggled emotionally for years before help could be offered. Had she learned of the abuse earlier, she would have made certain that he was offered therapy and help immediately.

Today, the entire family participates in therapy and Jacob, now 12, is making progress.

Most of all, he has impressed her with his bravery. He has come to reverse the thinking that led him to feel ashamed and keep secret the abuse, his mother said.

Jacob started moving forward, she said, "once he realized that he didn't need to be ashamed, that he was no different than a victim being hit by a car or something.'

"He's very brave. He's not ashamed which I think if very good. I think that is where he gets his strength,'' said his mother.

Guggisberg's Facebook group can be joined at:

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335