The Craig Case: No Winners

July 06, 1991

The decision Tuesday by Howard County prosecutors not to pursue a retrial of sexual child abuse charges against former day school owner Sandra A. Craig presumably clears the docket of this long-troublesome case. But frustratingly, it leaves the community with only some lessons -- not comprehension -- about whatever happened five years ago at Craig Country Day School in Clarksville.

Cases against Mrs. Craig and her son stand closed because prosecutors felt that without testimony from children who were osaid to be abused they could not successfully pursue the matter. Understandably, virtually all the parents involved have opted not to subject their children to more of the criminal justice system's grindings. Their children are older, but still children. Would the risks of reopening old wounds be worthwhile?

Unfortunately, the basic issues in this matter of whether pre-school age children suffered sexual abuse and who was responsible have been skirted. Prosecutors and a judge pursued closed-circuit television interviews with the children on sensitive matters essential to the charges, commendably intending to protect the children as much as possible in this sordid matter. But use of this new methodology gave Mrs. Craig's lawyers an opening to argue successfully -- all the way to the Supreme Court -- that she was denied a fair trial in having been convicted of sexually and physically abusing a 6-year-old. The case against her son, Jamal, never even went to trial. That's the way the legal system works sometimes.

Mrs. Craig claimed victory last week. Now living in New Jersey and unemployed, she is free to go on rebuilding her life, which no doubt has been devastated. But like other abuse cases elsewhere involving children, this whole tragedy -- that is the correct word -- yields no winners.

One emphatic lesson this case teaches is that entrusting very young children to the care of others, so prevalent in society today, does not relieve parents of unrelenting vigilance in assuring their children's well-being. Another is that authorities need to react immediately, thoroughly and in a coordinated manner when allegations such as those that began this case long ago are leveled; that did not happen here, although presumably such procedures have already been improved. Perhaps the stickiest lesson of all is that we need to perfect ways of dealing more knowledgeably with young children who have been wronged but lack the capacity to understand and cope.

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