Notifying an abuse victim’s parents

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Sarah Guggisberg has lived a mother’s nightmare that she doesn’t want to happen to anyone else.

While spending weekends with her ex-husband in 2005, her 5-year-old son, Jacob, was sexually abused by a neighbor. She wasn’t informed of the incident until Jacob told her four years later.

“Investigators with the Lyon County Sheriff’s department talked to my ex-husband and told him they thought Jacob had been abused. My ex-husband chose not to do anything, chose not to allow Jacob to be interviewed, did not tell me and he did not tell Jacob that he knew about the abuse,” said Guggisberg, who believes, that as Jacob’s primary caregiver, she should have been notified.

Guggisberg found out what happened in 2009 after Jacob told a social worker. She subsequently spoke with a Lyon County investigator who informed her that her ex-husband was informed, and that state statute was followed because they contacted “a parent.”

“I’m picking up the pieces of a broken little boy that have been shattered over the last six years,” Guggisberg said. Jacob has tried to commit suicide at least four times.

Sponsored by Rep. Bruce Vogel (R-Willmar), HF1899 would add to the custody order in a divorce agreement so that each party must “notify the other party if the minor child is the victim of an alleged crime and shall provide the name of the investigating law enforcement officer.” It would also require law enforcement to immediately notify a local welfare agency if the child is a victim of neglect, physical abuse or sexual abuse outside the family.

“Most law enforcement agencies already do the notification,” Vogel said.

Approved by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance, the bill was sent to the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. There is no Senate companion.

Rep. Kerry Gauthier (DFL-Duluth) supports the bill’s intent, but expressed concern that it could violate an order for protection or expose a parent that is hiding in protective custody.

Vogel and Caroline Palmer, staff attorney for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said they would try to address those concerns as the bill moves forward.