Decades after he said he was victimized by Dennis Hastert, Scott Cross sought a measure of justice Tuesday before an Illinois Senate committee.
“Dennis Hastert was a monster,” Cross told legislators in a Loop hearing room. “Yet he was protected by outdated laws.”
The laws in question, some twenty of them, include a statute of limitations for child sex offenses. Hastert admitted abusing students in his care when he was the wrestling coach in suburban Yorkville. But because those statutes had expired for Hastert’s victims, the former House Speaker could only be charged with violation of federal banking after structuring a series of hush-money payments to one of his accusers.
“Our laws should not let perpetrators benefit from the suffering they inflict on children,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan told the committee. “There should be no limitation on pursuing justice.”
In Illinois, child sex victims have until their 38th birthday to report abuse. At least 37 other states have lifted similar restrictions, and Madigan told the committee the Hastert case is a grim example of why such changes are needed here.
“That is the trend across the country,” Madigan said, insisting that cases would not be unfairly prejudiced against suspects if the Illinois laws are revised. “We do not eliminate the burden of proof that is necessary to prove a criminal case.”
When it was his turn to speak, Cross found it difficult to contain his emotions.
“Hastert inflicted unbelievable pain on the lives of the youth he was entrusted to care for, but he got a slap on the wrist,” he said. “Sadly my story is not unique.”
“There are other survivors from every corner of the state, who like me carry a tremendous burden suffered under tremendous guilt, and felt powerless because we didn’t come forward quick enough.”
Not everyone was on board. Steve Baker spoke on behalf of the Cook County Public Defender’s office, insisting that the changes were unnecessary and posed potential hazards for suspects.
“Every time you give law enforcement and prosecutors more tools, more leeway in prosecution, there is the potential for abuse,” he said. “Unlimited power begats what? Abuse at some level!”
But if Baker thought the proposed changes go too far, Barbara Blaine of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) insisted they don’t go far enough. Blaine noted that as written, the law is not retroactive and would have little benefit for victims who have yet to come forward.
“Why can’t Illinois be the state leading the charge to protect children?” she asked. “If we eliminate the statute of limitations, we eliminate a public safety nuisance.”
Branded a “serial child molester” by Judge Thomas Durkin, Dennis Hastert is serving a 15 month sentence at a Federal penitentiary in Rochester, Minnesota.