Elgin High student's battle to strengthen stalker law helps others
Sitting in an Elgin High School conference room with her mother and Detective Daryl Syre in October 2008, 15-year-old Hannah Perryman uttered a simple sentence:
"I'm just sick of this."
Hannah was being interviewed by police after reporting a threat from a teen she said had assaulted her in 2004 and then stalked her for years.
Those five words summed up years of her short life: She was talking to police for the umpteenth time ever since she says she was assaulted by an acquaintance close to her own age four years earlier and then stalked and threatened by the teen.
She was tired of the fear; tired of it all.
Since the offender was a juvenile, the 2004 assault had been resolved outside of court, as part of the Cook County Juvenile Court system's goal of getting juvenile offenders help rather than incarceration. The latest incident, however, would ultimately be resolved through a 16-month court case.
In June 2009, the offender was charged with eight counts of felony harassment and two of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
Syre knew how frustrated Hannah and her family were. He had been the officer to take many of the calls through the years, when the family would call police to report the teen who had attacked Hannah was in front of the house again, for hours at a time. There had never before been an actual threat, so there was nothing that police could do, and a gap in state law prevented Hannah from getting a court order barring the teen from coming near her.
So Syre suggested Hannah might want to use her mom's connections to advocate for a change in the law that would allow orders of protection in such cases.
Syre's suggestion was the spark that started the next phase in this journey that began with the assault when Hannah was in fifth grade and would lead to Hannah's Campaign, an online effort to strengthen the law so more victims could get protection from a stalker.
Hannah joined the Voices for Illinois Children's leadership committee, and her story served as a timely example of why change was needed.
It helped that her mom was well known, having won the 2004 Illinois Teacher of the Year Award and the 2008 Kane County Educator of the Year award for her work as a science teacher at Elgin High School. State Sen. Michael Noland of Elgin and Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates knew her through her teaching and participation in numerous environmental campaigns.
Noland and Crespo, together with Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's office and the Illinois attorney general's office, worked to write new legislation that would allow more victims the chance to get orders of protection against their abusers.
The law sailed through both houses in May 2009. The irony? In two weeks' time, Hannah would finally be granted an order of protection against the teen.
"We were the right story at the right time," Deb Perryman said. "Even if it didn't help us, it will help a lot of other families. You wonder, How many other people go through this?"
Previously, the only way a stalking victim could get an order of protection was if an attack had already occurred or the victim had a domestic relationship with the stalker.
Under the new law, judges have more discretion to issue orders to individuals who don't know their stalkers well. And the penalty for breaking an order of protection was increased to a one-year jail sentence and a fine of $2,500 upon the first violation, then one to three years in prison and a fine of $25,000 after another offense.
Signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn in August, it went into effect Jan. 1.
"There are stalking laws on the book in every state," said Jeanne Wrenn, a Cook County assistant state's attorney who crafted much of the legislation. "But this takes it to the next level and affords protection to more victims. That's really what we were trying to do."
Noland said he believes the bill passed quickly because it was very easy to explain to legislators that there was a gap in the law.
Within weeks of its passage, suburban police departments began modifying their training to better assist stalking victims, like Hannah.
At the same time, Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Adrienne Lund said, Hannah's own case dragged on, with the teen now living out of state, and the court case stalled as it waited on numerous psychological reports on the teen.
"I could feel their frustration," Lund said of the Perrymans. "And that was upsetting to me. Yet they were wonderfully patient."
Soon it would be time for Lund and the family to sit down to discuss whether to accept a plea deal or let the case go to trial.
"I told them I was ready to go to trial," Lund said.
Coming Tuesday: How the court case got resolved, and how suburban police departments are using Hannah's law.