For the last few weeks, I’ve been following the trial of Tonya Craft, the kindergarten teacher accused of molesting three young girls (one of whom is her daughter). Craft maintained her innocence the entire time, taking the stand in her own defense, and yesterday she was acquitted of all the charges. While obviously relieved with the verdict, Craft said that were “no winners,” citing concern for the children who accused her, as well as the battle she must now wage to regain custody of her daughter.
The case has been highly controversial, with strong opinions on either side, and debate is likely to continue even though Craft has now been exonerated. After the jump, read more about the “perfect storm” of accusations which Craft and her attorneys say victimized both her and the children who were her accusers.Two years ago, Craft was a kindergarten teacher in Georgia and the mother to two young kids of her own, including a daughter who she allowed to have friends over for sleepovers. One day, two of these young girls were caught touching each other; the parents were notified and the little girls got in trouble. After being questioned, the girls eventually said that Craft had molested them at her home. Coinciding with this revelation was the fact that Craft and these same parents had recently had a falling-out — the defense made the case that an element of vengeance was involved in the accusations. The prosecution, on top of having the testimony of three girls (one of whom was Craft’s daughter), also chipped away at Craft’s “morality,” revealing that she once mowed her lawn wearing a thong, that she was a drinker, and that her ex-husband suggested she had a lesbian experience.
In the end, it wasn’t enough to convict her of the 22 counts against her. Though the three little girls all took the stand and graphic photos were presented as evidence, the defense was able to show that there was reasonable doubt of Craft’s guilt — the girls gave inconsistent statements and the defense argued that they had been coached and fed false memories by parents and other non-professionals. While it seems incomprehensible that children could “make up,” lie, or “imagine” that such terrible things had happened to them, it’s not unheard of. The defense — as well as Craft, who did extensive research of her own to make her case — used a 30-year-old case in Bakersfield, CA, as an example. “In that case,” writes Mike Celizic on MSNBC.com, “Thirty-six innocent people went to jail after being convicted of ritually abusing some 60 children in Satanic rituals. They were convicted on the basis of testimony from children who had been told what had happened to them and coached what to say. All were exonerated, but only after years in jail.” Craft refused to lie down and allow the same thing to happen to her.
While she has been cleared of all charges, there are no doubt many, many people who wonder if, despite there being reasonable doubt, Craft did commit the heinous crimes she was accused of. I suppose we’ll never know that for sure and, regardless, the children who were the victims in this case have a long road ahead of them in terms of recovery. If you believe Craft is innocent, as I do, you have to wonder how these accusations came about, how these little girls came to believe — and I do think they came to believe it — that they had been molested by her. Psychologists will tell you that children are far more susceptible to having false memories and there’s historical evidence — in addition to the Bakersfield case — on record. But the role of the parents and those who were involved in questioning these kids over and over is the most fascinating and disturbing aspect of this case for me. Their actions indicate to me that shame was at the epicenter of that “perfect storm” Craft talked about.
Think about it. It all started with two very young girls showing curiosity about their own and each other’s bodies. Upon being caught, they were immediately told they were in trouble and were punished. Yes, certainly there could have been reason to worry that there was a troublesome reason behind these two kids touching each other, but it also could have been plain old childhood curiosity. Shaming them or punishing them is hardly the solution. This continued well into the trial, when Craft was slut-shamed for wearing a thong in her own yard and having a lesbian experience, as if any of that is evidence that she’s a child molester.
I’m not saying conclusively that I believe these parents outright lied about Craft and forced those lies into the mouths of their children and her daughter. However, I do think that they believed what they needed to believe — that this teacher, who none of them liked, violated their moral code and offended their idea of proper behavior, had to be the reason that their kids were acting in such a “shameful” way. And they got their kids to believe it too. That is the real shame of it all.
This is all, of course, my opinion based on what I’ve read about this case. If you have more insight, a different perspective, or your own thoughts on the matter, please share in the comments. Regardless, I think we can all agree with Craft that there were no winners in the conclusion of this case.