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Bennett, Bertino-Tarrant discuss plan to ensure justice for sex abuse victims

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CHICAGO – Former Speaker of the U.S. House Dennis Hastert is an admitted sex offender. But he is in prison for bank fraud, not sex crimes.

That’s because the deadline to prosecute his crimes against students ran out long ago and prosecutors are powerless to do anything.

That would change under proposed laws being sponsored by State Senator Scott Bennett (D – Champaign) and State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood). Their proposals to extend that deadline was the subject of a committee hearing Tuesday that included testimony from one of Hastert’s victims.

“As hard as it is to continue to live through the events of the past, the laws in Illinois – and across the country – have to change,” said Scott Cross, speaking to the Chicago Tribune. Cross, a victim of former US Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert when Cross was in high school and Hastert was his coach, testified at today's hearing.

Bennett said Cross and others deserve their chance at justice.

crimlaw4“Victims of sexual abuse, especially minors, may have a very difficult time confronting their abusers and reporting a crime,” Bennett said. “In instances where abuse is revealed years after the crime has been committed, our legal system should help victims secure justice – not turn them away.”

Bennett’s plan, contained in Senate Bill 3402, removes the statute of limitations for felony criminal sexual abuse and sex crimes against children, allowing for the prosecution of these offenses at any time.  

Hastert is currently serving a 15-month prison sentence for bank fraud relating to sexual abuse allegations from another victim. During Hastert’s trial, Judge Thomas Durkin noted that Hastert avoided serious legal consequences because of Illinois’ current statute of limitation law.

While today’s hearing was subject-matter only, meaning no vote was taken on the proposal, Bennett is hopeful movement of the plan will lead to a vote in the Senate.

“Predators like Dennis Hastert should not be able to escape justice simply because of the amount of time that has passed since their horrific crimes occurred,” Bennett said.

“The testimony I heard today makes me more determined to keep fighting to hold accountable predators who emotionally and physically harm our children,” State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Shorewood) said. “If a perpetrator doesn’t get caught right away, that doesn’t mean they should get away with abusing children.”

Under Bertino-Tarrant’s plan, House Bill 1127, the statute of limitations would be removed for criminal sexual assault and criminal sexual abuse of a child, ensuring that prosecution for these crimes could occur at any time.

“Sexual crimes committed by Dennis Hastert were horrible, and there should not be a time limit for when charges can be brought forward,” Bertino-Tarrant said. “People who physically and emotionally harm our children must be held accountable.”

Bertino-Tarrant has called for Hastert’s public pensions to be taken away. The senator filed legislation that would have allowed for Hastert’s General Assembly Retirement System (GARS) pension to be taken away. She also sent a letter to GARS requesting that his state lawmaker pension be immediately revoked.