More than 40 years ago, high school teacher and wrestling coach Dennis Hastert sexually abused at least five students in the small town of Yorkville, Illinois.
Hastert went on to have a successful career in politics, becoming the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House. His victims, however, suffered tremendous emotional trauma.
One of those victims, Scott Cross, spoke out publicly for the first time Tuesday, the same day Hastert was released from prison after serving 13 months of a 15-month sentence.
Cross told CNN’s Jake Tapper he was “a little surprised” to see Hastert released early, especially given how minimal the sentence was relative to the seriousness of what he admitted he’d done.
Hastert’s sentence “was a slap on the wrist,” he said. “He was charged with a financial crime, not what he’d actually done to myself and others back in the ’70s.”
Prosecutors were unable to charge Hastert for his sex crimes because the statute of limitations had expired when the accusations surfaced. His victims had to settle instead for much lighter bank fraud charges related to hush-money payments Hastert was making to another former student.
After the 2016 trial, Cross successfully led a charge in Illinois to overturn the statute of limitations on sex crimes. He told Tapper that’s especially important for child sex abuse, since it can take decades for those who were abused to come to terms with it and speak out.
“We have a built-in defense mechanism to just bury it,” Cross said, noting his own experience. “The Hasterts of the world have so much trust and respect over you that you really have a hard time processing and understanding it.”
We have a built-in defense mechanism to just bury it. ... I didn’t say anything for 37 years. Scott Cross, victim of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert
“You just hold it in, you don’t tell anybody,” he added. “My wife didn’t know. I have three other brothers [I didn’t tell].
“I didn’t say anything for 37 years. It’s just a burden you carry. You think about shame, guilt, embarrassment, humiliation.”
Cross said he hopes his public acknowledgment might help “give courage” to other people in similar situations.
“Coming out was the right thing for me to do. I can’t speak for others. I hope by coming out and talking about this, other people have the courage to come out and speak out about this, whether it’s [Hastert] or somebody else out there.”