Illinois Eliminates Statutes of Limitations on Child Sex Abuse Crimes

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday signed into law a bill that eliminates statutes of limitations for all felony criminal sexual assault and sexual abuse crimes against children.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan initiated the bill sponsored by Sen. Scott Bennett and Rep. Michelle Mussman. Effective immediately, the law applies to future felony child sex crime cases as well as current criminal cases in which the previous statute of limitations has not expired. 

“Sex crimes against children are a horribly tragic violation of trust that can take a lifetime to recover from,” Madigan said in a press release. “This new law will ensure that survivors are provided with the time they need to heal and seek justice.”

Prior to the new law, Illinois’ statutes required that the most egregious sexual offenses against children must be reported and prosecuted within 20 years of the survivor turning 18 years old. Two exceptions existed for cases in which the crimes were committed on or after Jan. 1, 2014, and either corroborating physical evidence exists or a mandated reporter failed to report the abuse.

“A prosecutor’s ability to seek justice on behalf of a sexual abuse survivor should not be hindered by an arbitrary stopwatch,” said Sen. Scott Bennett, a former prosecutor, in a press release. “There should be no time limit on obtaining justice for the survivors of these horrendous crimes.”

The statutes prevented former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert from being prosecuted for allegations of abuse against minors while he was an Illinois high school wrestling coach decades ago.  

In 2015, Hastert pleaded guilty to federal charges connected to a hush-money scheme to allegedly keep sexual abuse allegations secret. During the sentencing phase of Hastert’s trial, Scott Cross alleged that he was one of Hastert’s victims.

“Dennis Hastert used his authority and position as a role model to violate the trust of the youth in his care – in the most unimaginable way possible. And despite the lives ruined and decades of pain and suffering the survivors continue to deal with, he will never be held accountable,” said Cross in a press release. “I am thankful that Illinois law will now allow survivors of these horrific crimes to come forward in their own time, and get justice – no matter how overdue.”

Illinois joins 36 other states and the federal government in removing criminal statutes of limitations for some or all sexual offenses against children.

“This law sends a message to survivors of felony child sex crimes that it is not too late to come forward and report to law enforcement,” said Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, in a statement.

“Holding abusers accountable is important in a survivor’s recovery. A survivor’s path to justice should not be unavailable due to Illinois’ statutes of limitations.”