Attorney General Lisa Madigan demands end to statutes of limitations for child sex crimes

The attorney general of Illinois advocated Tuesday for legislators to eliminate statutes of limitations for sexual abuse and assault crimes against children.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan said current statutes of limitations, which require a survivor to report sexual crimes within 20 years of realizing they were abused starting at age 18, are restrictive because it can take many years to recover from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.

Madigan said because sexual crimes against children are often committed by acquaintances or trusted adults, children can take years to process what happened, and many don’t report the abuse.

“Our laws should not let perpetrators benefit from the suffering they inflict on children,” Madigan said at her state Senate testimony. “Originally, statutes of limitations were intended to create a fair criminal justice system. But for some crimes, we as a society have recognized statutes of limitations are not fair to victims.”

Madigan said many child abusers are repeat offenders, so removing the statutes of limitations and letting survivors report “at their own pace” would make Illinois safer.

Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert was called a “serial child molester” by a federal judge when he was sentenced to 15 months in prison in April for bank fraud. He could not be prosecuted for allegedly mistreating high school boys when he was a wrestling coach because too much time had passed since the abuse.

Scott Cross is a survivor of childhood sexual assault and said Hastert traumatized him, but testifying against him was a way to clear his conscience.

“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 during his Senate testimony. “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.”

Statutes of limitations do not exist in Illinois for crimes like murder, involuntary manslaughter and the production of child pornography. Across the country, 36 states have lifted their statutes of limitations for all or some sexual crimes against children.

Fear and misunderstanding of the legal system may keep survivors from reporting sexual assault or violence, state Sen. Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) said in a press release.

“Victims of sexual abuse, especially minors, may have a very difficult time confronting their abusers and reporting a crime,” Bennett said in a press release. “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.”