FARGO — It’s time to recognize a real hero from the last North Dakota legislative session: Amy Kempfer of West Fargo. What Kempfer accomplished in fighting against child abuse was extraordinary. Her passion, determination and dedication should be an inspiration to every citizen in the state.
It was just last year that Amy learned her former husband, Aaron Kempfer, had badly beaten their 3-month-old son. The baby suffered a fractured arm, fractured ribs and two bruised eyes. According to court records, Aaron admitted he had abused the baby on multiple occasions.
“I felt betrayed, angry and devastated,” Amy Kempfer said. “It was a real shock. I fell to the floor and started crying when I heard my baby had been abused.”
To make matters much worse, the judges in this case made horrific decisions that caused much more pain to Amy. Aaron Kempfer only spent 12 days in jail, and despite the pleas from medical professionals, was given visitation rights to spend time with his victim. All this without any treatment or evaluation.
“I couldn’t understand why I was losing in court,” Amy said. “The facts were on my side, the experts were on my side, the medical evidence was on my side, and it didn’t matter.”
Amy was determined to change the system. She became the face of child abuse, and pushed hard for tougher and meaningful child abuse laws. Many insiders told her it would never happen, but Amy was undeterred. Her efforts couldn’t change her situation, but she was fighting for other families, so they wouldn’t suffer like she did.
“We weren’t protecting victims,” Amy said. “Children were at risk. This needed to change. I wanted to demonstrate it’s a widespread problem, and not just about my case.”
So, Amy did her homework. She found there are an astonishing 2,000 child abuse cases a year in North Dakota. Worse than that, she found there were dozens of cases in the state where people had been convicted of child abuse felonies, but received little or no jail time. The system was pathetically broken. Child abuse wasn’t taken seriously enough, and the offenders were getting away with it.
Amy made six trips to Bismarck. She testified and met with legislators one on one. Beyond that, she talked to attorneys, social workers and parents of other victims. She also made several Facebook posts, videos and wrote hundreds of emails. Amy put in hundreds of hours, while also raising her two young boys as a single mother, and running her chiropractor business. It was an incredible accomplishment.
In the end, the Legislature passed two significant bills. The first one requires child abusers to receive a parental capacity evaluation, a mental health evaluation and an anger management assessment followed by treatment before they can visit their victims. The second one requires minimum incarcerations of one year.
Amy had great help from Rep. Austen Schauer, R-West Fargo, Sen. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, Cass County prosecutor Reid Brady, her mother, her babysitter and others. Schauer did phenomenal work in writing the bills and working hard to get them passed.
“Amy’s the courageous one,” Schauer said. “A real fighter.”
Amy Kempfer demonstrated that tenacity and a strong sense of justice can make a difference. We should all be grateful to her.