St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly went before a Senate Committee on Tuesday to urge senators to pass legislation to eliminate the statute of limitations for felony sex crimes against children.
The bill, Senate Bill 189, passed unanimously and heads to the full Senate for consideration.
“There is no time limit for the pain and trauma endured by child victims of sex assault and there should be no time limit for our ability to reach justice for them,” Kelly told the committee, according to a press release.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Scott Cross, a survivor, and state Sen. Scott Bennett, the bill’s sponsor, joined Kelly to testify before the committee.
The bill was introduced after former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, once considered one of the nation’s most powerful politicians, was accused of paying money to cover up his sexual abuse of members of the wrestling team he coached in Yorkville, Illinois. He was sentenced to 15 months for the payments. He was never prosecuted for the sex crimes because too much time had elapsed.
Hastert, 74, was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for a bank fraud case linked to allegations he sexually abused teen boys more than 30 years ago. Hastert was convicted of using the money to pay off a sex abuse accuser who was blackmailing him.
Scott Cross, was one of Hastert’s victims. Cross’ oldest brother is state Rep. Tom Cross, who mentored Hastert politically.
Dennis Hastert inflicted unbelievable pain on the lives of the youth he was entrusted to care for, yet he got a slap on the wrist. As a teacher and coach, Hastert silenced his victims through the power he had over them. As he ascended to political power and seemingly became untouchable, the pain and suffering of survivors got buried. He had the power, prestige and law on his side. As hard as it is to talk about events of the past, the laws in Illinois – and across the country – have to change.
Scott Cross, sex abuse victim
“Dennis Hastert inflicted unbelievable pain on the lives of the youth he was entrusted to care for, yet he got a slap on the wrist,” Cross said in a press release. “As a teacher and coach, Hastert silenced his victims through the power he had over them. As he ascended to political power and seemingly became untouchable, the pain and suffering of survivors got buried. He had the power, prestige and law on his side. As hard as it is to talk about events of the past, the laws in Illinois – and across the country – have to change.”
There are no statute of limitations in Illinois for murder, voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, arson, treason, forgery and child pornography production. Thirty-six states and the federal government have removed the criminal statute of limitations for some or all sex crimes committed against children.
“As a former prosecutor, I have witnessed first-hand the devastating physical and emotional impacts of child sex crimes. It is because of these experiences that I believe we must have the ability to prosecute the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes whenever the survivors come forward – even if that is years after the crime,” Bennett said in a press release.
A BND investigative series titled Violation of Trust found that only 30 percent of sex crimes reported to police ever went to a criminal court. Experts said that Illinois has some of the most progressive laws to prosecute sex crimes. After the series was published, Madigan formed a task force. Kelly, who co-chairs the task force, heads training to ensure law enforcement is better equipped to handle sex crimes.
Under current state law, sex offenses against children must be reported and prosecuted within 20 years of the survivor turning 18 years old. There are two exemptions, crimes that were committed after Jan. 1, 2014, where either there is physical evidence or a mandated reporter, such as a social worker or teacher, failed to report the abuse.
“Children who suffer sexual assault and abuse often spend a lifetime trying to recover from the violations they have experienced,” Madigan told the committee. “There should be no limitation on the pursuit of justice for felony sex crimes committed against children. We must ensure survivors are able to come forward in their own time and receive the support they need and deserved.”