Hastert protected from sex abuse charges by statute of limitations

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert will be sentenced later this month. He faces up to five years prison, but he will not face any time for more serious charges of sexual abuse.

He is accused of sexually abusing five of his former students. Yet, if Hastert goes to prison, it will be for federal bank violations, not the alleged abuse.

The former U.S. House Speaker is protected by the statute of limitations, a law that forbids prosecutors from charging someone with a crime after a certain number of years.

"Of the hundreds we have represented I'm not aware of any where the perpetrator was prosecuted for the crimes," said Marc Pearlman, sex abuse victim's attorney.

Pearlman represents victims of priest abuse. Most have come forward as adults, which experts say is very common. The Chicago Children's Advocacy Center says 96 percent of victims know their abusers.

"The dynamics around that familiarity with the perpetrator has with the victim makes it so hard for kids to disclose abuse," said Meg O'Rourke, Chicago Children's Advocacy Center.

Which is why O'Rourke says time is key. The advocacy center successfully fought hard to get the law changed; in 2014, the statute of limitations for child sex abuse in Illinois was abolished.

"After Penn State and Jerry Sandusky, there was kind of a sea change around the country looking at statute of limitations," O'Rourke said.

While there is no time limit to prosecute cases moving forward, the law is not retroactive. Pearlman says most of his clients will never get the justice they deserve.

"Most of our clients come to us and they believe we can do something to help them get perpetrator out of jail, that is why they come to us not because of the money," Pearlman said.

Pearlman and other victims' advocates say removing the statute of limitations in Illinois is a great first step, but there is still a long way to go. They say the system still makes it difficult for child sex abuse victims to come forward.

The Chicago Children's Advocacy Center says education and training are key.
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