CHICAGO - A man who said Dennis Hastert sexually abused him decades ago told Illinois lawmakers Tuesday the former U.S. House speaker was "a monster" who was protected by the statute of limitations and wasn't appropriately punished.
The comments from 54-year-old Scott Cross came as lawmakers are considering joining 37 other states that don't have a statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases. Hastert was sentenced in April to 15 months in prison for violating banking laws while trying to silence one of four victims identified by prosecutors, but Illinois' statute of limitations meant he couldn't be charged with sexual abuse, which could've sent Hastert to prison for decades.
"This topic, while difficult for me to discuss, is one that cannot be swept under the rug," said Cross, his voice at times shaking as he urged a panel of lawmakers to change the limits of current law.
Lawmakers have four similar proposals pending that would eliminate Illinois' statute of limitations for sexually abusing children. No votes were taken Tuesday and the soonest the bills can be considered is next month when lawmakers return to Springfield for a brief session.
As it stands, victims of sex abuse have 20 years from their 18th birthday to report the crime so it can be prosecuted. But Cross, who has said Hastert abused him when Cross was a high school wrestler and Hastert was a coach, told lawmakers it's difficult for victims to come to terms with their abuse and overcome feelings of guilt and shame before they tell anyone — a process that can take many years.
"It is unbelievably hard to step forward and confront a person of power and trust and somebody that you idolize and respect," Cross said.
Cross still refers to Hastert as "coach" sometimes, and when he testified at his sentencing in April he recalled looking up to him. After Cross' testimony, the federal judge who was about to sentence Hastert asked him if he abused Cross.
"I don't remember that," Hastert responded. "I accept his statement."
Authorities say Hastert abused at least four students throughout his years at Yorkville High School, about 45 miles southwest of Chicago.
Cross told lawmakers Hastert's punishment amounted to "a slap on the wrist" and that his victims were "silenced by Illinois' legal system."
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who sat next to Cross while he delivered his statement, expressed support for the measures that lawmakers are considering.
"The children who suffered from Hastert's abuse, and so many others, may need their entire life to recover," she said.
Current law in Illinois does have exceptions to the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases, but they're narrow. They only apply to cases after 2014 and in instances where physical evidence exists or if someone who was required to report the crime failed to do so.
Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said lawmakers should make the pending measures retroactive to apply to cases like Hastert's, even if current case law deems that unconstitutional. Blaine said Illinois should challenge that with new legislation.
"Let Illinois lead the charge," she said.
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