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Diane Dimond: End the Statute of Limitations on Sex Crimes Against Children

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., cut a pitiful figure this week as he left federal prison in Minnesota and his wheelchair got stuck on a bump in the sidewalk.

His wife, fumbling at his side to manage his aluminum walker and other items, wasn’t immediately able to help him over the hurdle.

The just-released prisoner was momentarily stuck, pathetic for a man who was once second in line for the presidency of the United States.

I didn’t feel sorry for him one bit. Hastert is one of the worst kinds of criminals in my book. He robbed children of their innocence and damaged their futures forever.

When Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in prison last April, the judge called him “a serial child molester” and noted that he had sexually abused at least four members of the wrestling team at Yorkville High School in suburban Chicago from 1965 to 1981.

I’m betting there were more young boys who fell victim to coach Hastert’s lust. Preferential serial child molesters rarely stop at four.

But Hastert was not convicted of sexually abusing children because the statute of limitations in Illinois had long since run out. In that state, victims have 20 years from their 18th birthday to report a sex crime, and Hastert’s popular position in the community back in the day was enough to keep all his victims quiet — for decades.

No, it wasn’t sex with minors that brought down the man whose affable personality helped him hold on to the House speaker position longer than any other Republican. It was his own mysterious bank transactions that alerted the FBI.

When agents questioned Hastert, he lied about the reason for his systematic withdrawals of just under $10,000. He said he didn’t trust banks.

But the FBI’s investigation turned up the real reason Hastert had drained his accounts of more than $950,000. Beginning in 2010, Hastert had begun to pay hush money to one of his victims.

Ultimately, all the former politician could be charged with was violating banking regulations. Once the explosive indictment against him was made public, Hastert’s wretched secrets began to spill out in shameful detail.

Stephen Reinboldt, one of the victims, later died of AIDS, according to his sister, Jolene Burdge. She said her brother’s life path deteriorated after the sexual contact with his trusted coach. The unidentified victim to whom Hastert had been paying money filed a lawsuit asking for the remainder of the $3.5 million Hastert had promised him.

And victim Scott Cross decided to go public after 37 years of keeping his painful secret.

On CNN this week, Cross was asked to enlighten people about why so many victims wait so long to report sexual abuse or never report it at all.

“You think about shame, guilt, embarrassment, humiliation — the Hasterts of the world have so much trust and respect over you that you really have a hard time processing and understanding it,” he said.

He added that he was “devastated” and “felt very alone.” Now 54, Cross told CNN that he had never told his parents or three brothers about the abuse.

Ironically, one of his brothers had been a political protege of Hastert’s and went on to serve as the Illinois Republican House leader. Needless to say, the entire Cross family was shocked at Cross’ late-in-life revelation.

While Hastert was serving 13 months of his 15-month sentence, Cross was busy working with the Illinois attorney general to get the state to abolish the statute of limitations on sex crimes against children. He was successful. Gov. Bruce Rauner is expected to sign the unanimously passed legislation soon.

What a fitting turn of events! The actions of Hastert, the man who wielded so much influence over the state of Illinois and Congress, were both his own undoing and the catalyst that finally erased the impediment to justice sex abuse victims have endured for so long — at least in Illinois.

Only a handful of states have no statute of limitations on felony sex abuse. Laws in other states vary widely, but many use the “age-18-plus-20-years formula.”

That any state continues to embrace a statute of limitation on reporting child sexual abuse is incomprehensible. Advances in psychology tell us it is normal for vulnerable children to heed the warning of their abusers to “keep the secret” for years, and even decades.

And, it has been proven to be especially difficult for boys to admit what happened to them. It goes to their very sense of developing manhood.

Our system is based on the premise of justice for all. And that includes victims who, for whatever reason, cannot confront or talk about what happened to them until later in life.

It is way past time to do away with these antiquated statute of limitation laws.

Diane Dimond is the author of Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box. Contact her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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