No time limit on justice when adults molest minors

Former Speaker of the House, Congressman from Illinois and Yorkville High School wrestling coach Dennis Hastert has been convicted of illegally structuring bank withdrawals to pay for the silence of one of his alleged sexual abuse victims, according to an April 8 New York Times article. 

Federal investigators discovered that Hastert was withdrawing large sums of money, which were used to pay off a former student. The prosecution identified at least four victims during this case, each claiming Hastert sexually abused them while he coached at Yorkville, according to the New York Times article.

Hastert will receive six months of jail time at most, but his defense attorneys are arguing he should get probation because he recently suffered a stroke, the article states.

Victims have come forward, but Hastert cannot be prosecuted as a sex offender because the criminal statute of limitations has run out under Illinois law.

Unlike 16 other states, Illinois places limits on the length of time sexually assaulted or abused minors have to press charges.  The incident must be reported before the victim is 38, according to The National Center for Victims of Crime. Ordinarily, the 20-year period might be enough time for individuals to recover from trauma and file charges, but that might not be the case when the offender is as powerful and immune from prosecution as Hastert was for much of his career.

In cases of sexual abuse or sexual assault not involving a minor, victims have three years to report the abuse and 10 years following the incident to file charges.

People victimized by authority figures need time to sufficiently recover before they can file charges.  The reasons for delaying reporting the offenses include trauma caused by the incident or fear of being retaliated against or discredited.

Illinois should at least give people who were sexually assaulted as minors an opportunity to seek justice through the legal system.

Comedian and Columbia alumnus, Andy Richter, who attended Yorkville High School at the time Hastert was coaching there, came forward on Twitter and said while he was never a victim, he remembered how Hastert would set up a chair to watch the boys take showers, and nobody objected because no one knew it was wrong.

What Richter said demonstrates how minors perceive sexual abuse. Many times, young people are unaware when an authority figure is doing something wrong. Many victims do not become aware of what sexual assault is until much later, which is why the reporting can be delayed for decades.

Some of the victims of Hastert’s abuse were as young as 14 years old—not an age when someone is likely to question an authority figure’s behavior. 

These cases show that people must first learn what sexual abuse is before they can realize it happened to them. In this case, better education about abuse might have allowed Hastert’s victims to question his behavior sooner.

Lifting the statute of limitations in these cases will help people who were abused as minors seek justice. However, to prevent these cases in the future, minors must be aware of what abuse is and where to seek help.

Minors who have been sexually abused must deal with the trauma for their entire lives, so it is only fitting that abusers should remain responsible for what they have done all their lives, too.