Shaw: It's time to strengthen our state's child abuse laws
North Dakota’s child abuse laws are extremely weak. Perpetrators get off way too easy, and victims are not protected. Fortunately, there are two bills in front of the North Dakota Legislature that would change that. These bills need to be passed.
The enormous cracks in the system came to light in the Aaron Kempfer case in West Fargo. According to court documents, Kempfer pleaded guilty to beating up his 3-month-old son on multiple occasions. Those beatings caused the baby to suffer a fractured arm, fractured ribs and two bruised eyes.
Kempfer's sentencing was a disgrace. He was sentenced to five months in jail, but was only behind bars for 12 days. The rest of the time he was allowed to live at home as part of electronic home monitoring. Even worse, without any treatment or evaluation, Kempfer is allowed to visit the son he abused. Medical professionals pleaded with the judges to keep Aaron away from the victim for five years, but those pleas were ignored.
Fortunately, Rep. Austen Schauer, R-West Fargo, has impressively stepped up to put some real teeth in the state’s child abuse laws. Under Schauer’s bills, child abusers would spend a minimum of two years in prison for inflicting serious bodily harm for those under the age of 2; there would be no more electronic home monitoring in these cases; child abusers would go through mandatory treatment and evaluation before they could visit their victims; and abusers would be tracked in the same way sex offenders are tracked.
“We need to do what’s right to protect children, no more excuses,” Schauer said. “Allowing perpetrators to go back to their victims without any kind of evaluation is a failed system. And it’s failed the most vulnerable.”
The victim’s mother is Dr. Amy Kempfer. After learning of the abuse, she divorced Aaron. Amy is a smart and determined woman, who is committed to making sure there is justice for other victims.
“Our state fails to protect the voiceless,” Amy testified. “People who harm children deserve to be in prison. They deserve to have the label of a felon and the consequences as such.”
Unfortunately, child abuse is much more widespread than just the Kempfer case. In 2017, there were an astounding 2,064 confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect in North Dakota. Hundreds of badly beaten children end up in the Fargo YWCA emergency shelter every year.
“Any time the law takes the pressure off the abused and places it on the abuser is a good thing,” said YWCA Cass Clay CEO Erin Prochnow.
“There needs to be stricter barriers to make sure kids are safe,” said Cass County Social Services Director Chip Ammerman. “The rights of the vulnerable supersede the rights of the adult.”
The time is now for the Legislature to act. Child abusers must face tougher consequences for their despicable actions. The safety of innocent children is at stake.