The Hunting of Dr. Craft: A Child Therapist Is Jailed after the Law Decides He Took the Wrong Pictures
Jackson, Judy, Nathan, Debbie, The Nation
The snapshots of Dr. Robert Bruce Craft living a normal life are too dated to show what he looks like now. Pictures from the 1990s depict a man in middle age: tanned, fit, suburban and a little too tall for his posture. But his gangliness gave him a gentle, friendly mien. Perennially dressed in one of those floppy canvas hats hikers use to avoid sunburn, and with an omnipresent grin, he looked like an outsized Mr. Rogers--which is how many who knew him saw him. These days there's only one recent photo of Craft, on the website of the Department of Corrections of the State of Georgia. It shows him pale and flabby, vaguely monstrous, in the way all inmates look in their mug shots, even those who've been imprisoned for crimes they never committed.
The twenty-year sentence Craft has been serving since 2000 is for "exploiting" and "molesting" children by taking pornographic pictures. The pictures include one of a small, smiling boy, fully clothed, peeing into a stream, with only the arc of urine visible--an image readily available in rural areas with tourist shops. There's a laughing youngster mooning the camera in the classic Coppertone pose, and another picture, of Craft's diaperless nephew photographed from behind--both common shots in parenting magazines. And there's the frontal torso of a preschool girl with arms raised as she dons a dress. That one is artful enough to hang in a gallery. Others look just like snapshots kept in scrapbooks by doting parents.
But Craft wasn't these kids' father, which is the main reason he's locked up now. Georgia has no criminal law banning people from photographing children who aren't theirs. But it does have statutes under which anyone photographing children making what a prosecutor thinks are provocative gestures can be charged with producing kiddie porn, even if the children were fully clothed when the pictures were taken.
When the first child pornography legislation was formulated a generation ago, it outlawed depictions of children engaged in inarguably sexual acts--intercourse, for example, or masturbation. But since then, revisions in the laws have made it illegal to show "lasciviousness"--a term that can mean almost anything. Similar laws are now on the books in every state.
As a result of this legal fuzziness, in suburban Dallas a couple was arrested and their children removed in 2003 after the father took a picture of their baby son breastfeeding and left the roll at a drugstore for processing. In Santa Fe an acclaimed artist is awaiting trial for taking pictures of young kids in the family while they were nude. Not long ago in New Hampshire, police investigated the Women's Rural Entrepreneurial Network after the group made a fundraising calendar that included photos of elderly women members and their daughters--fully clothed--proudly holding toddler granddaughters in their birthday suits. And in Roanoke, Virginia, this past summer, two 16-year-old girls were charged with producing and disseminating child pornography after they photographed themselves topless, then gave the pictures to their high school boyfriends, who posted them on the Internet. So far, no one accused of these transgressions has landed in prison. No one, that is, except Dr. Bruce Craft.
Craft was a Georgia clinical psychologist specializing in children. In Augusta, where he'd been practicing for years, he was respected by colleagues as a gifted diagnostician and exceptionally dedicated clinician. No one had ever received a complaint about his work. Instead, he regularly got accolades, and parents raved about the progress their hyperactive, anorexic, dyslexic and depressed children made under his care. His success stemmed from a finely honed ability to observe kids in play therapy without intruding, then gently modify their behavior. If a child cursed, for example, Craft might discuss with her what she was angry about, then reassure her it was OK to use bad words in his office but might not be in school or at home. …