It seemed pretty obvious when news of the indictment broke that Dennis Hastert was paying to cover up sexual misconduct with a minor, although we could not say male or female. Various press reports told us indirectly what editors thought - indirectly, to avoid risk of libel - referencing Hastert's work coaching wrestling and with the Boy Scouts. Am I the only reader who thought of Jerry Sandusky?
But the next questions were: Did Hastert's victim still have a claim he could bring? And would demanding payment for silence be extortion, a word the press, including the Times, has now used.
Regarding the limitations period in Illinois on child sexual abuse, as I read the statutes, it could be as long as 20 years after the child reaches 18. So the incident could have been as long ago as the mid-80s, depending on the age of the child at the time. The payments began in 2010.
Hastert worked with the Boy Scouts for 16 years but I don't know when that ended.
Hastert left his teaching and coaching job in 1981 and was elected to the House in 1987.
The WSJ says that the limitations period on any sex offense "decades ago" would likely have run. But that conclusion is premature.
As for extortion: If the child, now and adult, hired a lawyer and threatened to sue, as many have for harm arising from the sex abuse, and the lawyer settled for $3.5 million, which Hastert was in the process of paying when indicted, that surely would not be extortion. We would call that a settlement. (For all we know, maybe the victim did hire a lawyer.)
The WSJ quotes a Northwestern law professor calling the victim a "blackmailer." But this word is also not supported by what we now know. People have settled claims for sex abuse. They are not therefore blackmailers, or extorters.
So if the victim did not hire a lawyer and did the same thing on his own, surely it doesn't turn into extortion. (Maybe the victim is himself a lawyer.)
What if the limitations period had already run when the victim demanded compensation? In some of the church sex abuse cases, the church settled with a confidentiality agreement even when the claim was time barred. The apparent motive is to avoid publicity.
Last question: Why didn't Hastert report the demand to the law enforcement and deny the allegation? Two possibilities, maybe both: He anticipated that if the story broke, more victims would emerge. Often, there is more than one victim of such a crime. Or maybe the victim had incontrovertible proof -- letters, pictures, tape recordings.