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updated: 11/15/2010 11:29 PM

Hannah's journey will help scores of people, police say

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  • Hannah Perryman, a starting pitcher for Elgin High, pushed to change the state's stalking laws after she says she was stalked for years and unable to obtain an order of protection despite numerous cries for help.

       Hannah Perryman, a starting pitcher for Elgin High, pushed to change the state's stalking laws after she says she was stalked for years and unable to obtain an order of protection despite numerous cries for help.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Elgin High junior Hannah Perryman plans to play softball in college and study education and criminology to help teens who are stalking victims.

       Elgin High junior Hannah Perryman plans to play softball in college and study education and criminology to help teens who are stalking victims.
    NIKOLETA KRAVCHENKO | Staff Photographer

  • Hannah Perryman says the ordeal she has gone through over the past six years  being stalked, going through a lengthy court case and pushing to change the state's stalking laws  has ultimately made her stronger.

       Hannah Perryman says the ordeal she has gone through over the past six years being stalked, going through a lengthy court case and pushing to change the state's stalking laws has ultimately made her stronger.
    RICK WEST | Staff Photographer

 
By Kerry Lester

Hannah Perryman's frustration and determined action in the wake of it will help scores of stalking victims in Illinois, law enforcement officials say.

The Streamwood teen successfully pushed to strengthen state stalking laws after finding she could not get a court order to keep a teen from coming near her, despite numerous cries for help over four years' time.

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Following that, as a lengthy court battle, peppered with continuances, dragged on in Rolling Meadows juvenile court this past year, Hannah an honors student saw her near-perfect grades dip to a C average. She couldn't sleep.

"I felt mentally and physically drained," she said. "School was really tough. Half the time, I'd wake up in the middle of the night. I'd sit there and just kind of think, 'It's not my fault, but I need to get through this.' Hopefully the time would come."

She wanted to lessen the chances of the same thing happening to someone else.

"I just wanted to help someone else," the 17-year-old Elgin High student said one recent Sunday at the family's kitchen table, following a morning of travel softball games with the Wasco Diamonds. "If it helps one person, that's something."

Law enforcement applauds the change. And they have been quick to try to learn how to make use of the new law.

It helps people who cannot get orders of protection through the Illinois Domestic Violence Act or no-contact orders granted by civil courts to sexual assault victims.

The aim is to prohibit initial stalking behavior before it gets more serious.

Judges now have more discretion to issue orders of protection to individuals who don't know their stalkers well, such as Hannah.

The penalty for breaking an order of protection was increased to a one-year jail sentence and a fine of up to $2,500 for the first violation. A second violation would be considered a class 4 felony, resulting in one to three years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000 after another offense.

The legislation also retooled the definition of stalking, with descriptions of the course of conduct fitting much of Hannah's story.

"Victims," the legislation notes, "experience fear for their safety, fear for the safety of others and suffer emotional distress. Many victims alter their daily routines to avoid the persons who are stalking them."

Before Hannah's law, police officers said, protecting victims and prosecuting stalkers was more difficult.

"(Stalking) was non-prosecutable, almost," Algonquin Sgt. Brett Wisnauski said.

"We were behind the eight ball. Now we have a law you can do something with."

Last fall, McHenry County College hosted a stalking symposium for law enforcement, judicial, health care, social work and victim advocate professionals. They spent six hours learning how to better build stalking cases, investigate and prosecute them, as well as respond to victims.

More than 20 police departments from the Chicago area including Algonquin, Mount Prospect and Bensenville sent officers to learn, among other things, how to use Hannah's law when dealing with stalking cases.

Despite her work on it, the law came too late for Hannah to take advantage of it. She received a civil order of protection against the teen in May 2009, just weeks before the law passed the General Assembly. The teen, who was charged with several counts of stalking and disorderly conduct against Hannah, pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct charges misdemeanors this August. The teen was handed a sentence of two years' probation Oct. 12.

Hannah's family agreed to the plea deal, they say, because they wanted to end the emotional toll the court case had taken on them.

"I sat down with them extensively. And we talked about this. I said I'm willing to go to trial," said Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Adrienne Lund, who prosecuted the case. "I felt like it was strong enough. I researched the law, and you have to take everything into consideration. I told them that without a doubt we would for sure get a guilty on disorderly conduct. It wasn't as clear on the stalking. They said they would rather have the sure thing."

As Hannah read her victim impact statement in court, she said she told the judge and the teen that she was prepared for a trial and not afraid to take the stand.

"I made the decision to allow you to plead to the misdemeanors instead of (felony) stalking," she recalls saying. She called it "one final act of mercy."

Hannah said she had no doubt she had been stalked, looking out her window time and time again to see the offender outside pacing or staring up at the house, leaving her full of fear and anxiety.

But defiantly, Hannah told her offender she would not back down in the future, at the same time "demanding that you leave me alone forever."

To be certain of that, the judge also ordered that any time the offender re-enters Cook County a parole officer must be notified and then Hannah notified as well.

Hannah still worries she'll see the teen again. The experience has admittedly given her trust issues. She attends weekly therapy sessions to help.

Hannah will go on being a teenager, playing softball, readying for college, hanging out with friends.

But she will also go on as a survivor.

Hannah, who last month verbally accepted a record athletic scholarship to pitch at a Division II college, plans to study education or criminology, perhaps helping teens like herself one day.

"It's been a long road and I'm happy to have it over, finally," she said. "But yeah, it's definitely made me a stronger person. I've gone through it and now I can cope with things. I have more strategies."

Lund describes Hannah as a "strong, determined young lady. She showed a lot of what I would consider maturity because most kids that age would think of nothing but vengeance and anger. And she was angry, she was hurt, but she showed so much temperance."

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