As Attorney General, protecting North Dakota's kids from child abuse and sexual predators was one of Heidi's top priorities. She made sure parents were notified when sex offenders move to their neighborhoods. She worked with the medical community to increase reporting of suspected assaults. She built up a special state unit to prosecute sex offenders who abused children, and helped local prosecutors put sexual predators behind bars.
Prosecutions and convictions went up, and Heidi and her law enforcement team put several notorious child predators in the state penitentiary for decades.
But she knew it wasn't enough.
In 1994, she was asked to help in the case of David Vernon Anderson, a young man about to be released from the North Dakota State Penitentiary after serving a sentence for car theft.
He had a string of child sexual abuse arrests going back eight years. His psychological evaluation showed he had a personality disorder, and that he had every intention of abusing children again. He refused to undergo sex offender treatment while in prison, and his court-appointed guardian sought to have him committed to a facility that could keep him away from children and treat his personality disorder. He was clearly a danger to children.
Heidi tried to commit Anderson to the North Dakota State Hospital, but discovered that under state law at the time, there was no way to commit him once his criminal sentence expired. He'd be back on the streets.
So, Heidi proposed changing the law to authorize civil commitment of sexual predators, and she testified before members of the Legislature, trying to make them understand that if Anderson was released, he would molest another child.
According to the Bismarck Tribune account, "Heitkamp, in a move to prevent more victimization, went to the 1995 Legislature with a proposal for a civil commitment law for sexual predators. The State Hospital estimated it would cost too much and didn't want to run such a program. The law was rejected."
When Anderson was charged with the sexual abuse of a 12-year old In March, 1996, no one was surprised. He was convicted of a sex crime for the first time in adult court and sent to prison for eight years. "Heitkamp and Burleigh county authorities went back to the Legislature in 1997 and again told the story of David V. Anderson. This time," the story concluded, "the bill passed."
Today, Heidi says she has never forgotten the "anguish and regret I felt that one more child had to suffer before we won the fight."
Since the law passed, more than 80 sex offenders have been committed to the state hospital, and there are 54 offenders undergoing treatment at the facility, off the streets and safely locked away from schools, playgrounds and neighborhoods. "But this experience showed me again that you've got to stand up for what you believe in, and you just can't give up, especially when the stakes are so high."