The Hunting of Dr. Craft | The Nation


The Hunting of Dr. Craft

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A community hotline was set up to document children's complaints of sexual abuse by Craft, and authorities used patient files to track down and interview kids. The hotline was unproductive, and no one complained of abuse--except for one child. Clint, the hyperactive boy who used to visit Craft's house, said he'd been molested but didn't "remember" it until FBI agent Owens told him Craft harmed hundreds of kids and Clint could help lock him up.

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Judy Jackson
Judy Jackson is a New York City-based forensic consultant and writer. She has contributed to NYPress and Filmmaker...
Debbie Nathan
Debbie Nathan, a New York City-based writer, is the author of Women and Other Aliens: Essays From the U.S.-Mexican...

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Meanwhile, parents of alleged child victims who insisted their kids hadn't been hurt were themselves being threatened.

According to the Oliver parents, when they told Owens that they didn't think Craft's pictures of their kids were pornography, Owens said, "You're making a big mistake. If you want to be a good parent you have to make sure you make the right choices here." (Owens could not be reached for comment.)

Craft's lawyers doubted the community could grasp the complexity of the case, evaluate a hundred images taken out of context or understand how leading, pressured interviews with children can create false charges of abuse--as may well have happened with 9-year-old Clint's accusation.

So they opted for a bench trial, in which a judge, rather than a jury, would decide guilt or innocence.

Expert witnesses were prepared to tell the judge that Craft did not seem to harbor sexual urges toward kids. Drugstore photo-lab employees had agreed to talk about how they'd been processing his work for years and found it innocuous. His young "victims" were lined up to testify that he'd never hurt them and that they, not Craft, had taken some of the pictures. All this would cast doubt on 9-year-old Clint's accusation of having been molested.

Clint took the stand for the state, but Craft's friendly witnesses never did: By the time the prosecution rested its case, the judge seemed so offended by the images, and Craft was such an emotional wreck, that his lawyers thought up a deal. They told DA Craig they would not put on a defense if Craft's wife could keep the house. The verdict came quickly, and later a sentence of twenty years for ninety-nine of 118 convictions, most of that time to be served concurrently.

Now Kay sits at home amid all those photo envelopes, writing to officials on behalf of her husband, organizing inmates' families to demand waiting areas inside prisons so they won't get rained on while visiting kin; doing appellate research; wondering whether the DA targeted Bruce because she used to be a nurse at Planned Parenthood. If this were ancient Greece she'd be Penelope waiting for Odysseus. But it's now, in America, where epics are more like Kafka.

How could such a thing happen? Answering that question requires looking at the illogical, helter-skelter way that laws banning child pornography have evolved in the last generation. Not only is it criminal for an adult to make a child engage in sex acts, the thinking goes, but taking pictures is also banned because kiddie porn records the real abuse of a child, and pedophiles have a tendency to horde the images and exchange them with fellow deviants. The practice traumatizes child victims, who can spend the rest of their lives imagining shameful photos and videos of themselves circulating who knows where. The trauma must be prevented. That's why child pornography is not protected speech, and hasn't been for more than twenty years.

Who could argue with that logic? But there's a problem: defining what a sex act is. In 1982 the Supreme Court tried to answer the question while ruling on a New York case now popularly known as Ferber. In Ferber, the Justices upheld a statute that made it illegal to use a child in a "sexual performance" that includes "sexual conduct." The definition of "sexual conduct" started out straightforwardly, listing "intercourse," "bestiality," "masturbation" and "sado-masochistic abuse." Vetting a picture for these activities is not rocket science. But here's where things get harder: the statute affirmed by Ferber also prohibited "lewd exhibition of the genitals" (and a subsequent federal law changed "lewd" to "lascivious").

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