The rape victim, who is 17 now, lived in nearly a dozen foster homes before being taken in, at age 10, by the Spear family.

They were prominent and prosperous folks in their small upstate town, Edward Spear an active member of the Catholic Church and the owner of a lumberyard; his brother and father the publishers of a small weekly. The victim, by contrast, was reputed to be a difficult child. Through the years, by her own admission, she ran away from home, had problems in school and experimented with drugs -- an angry child, to the outside world, visibly troubled.

She says she repeatedly had sex with Spear, her foster father, from the time she was 12. Spear was sentenced for his crime as his wife stood at his side, pregnant with their seventh child. He had pleaded guilty to consentual intercourse with a victim over the age of 14. His attorney, in what has become a local cause celebre, argued that the victim was "someone going on 30 or 32." The judge in Orange County court concurred.

The judge ruled that the victim, who had once faced charges, later dropped, of stealing jewelry from the home of her foster family, was not "an unsuspecting, innocent, 14-year-old, unsophisticated girl," while Spear, "a good family man," had already "been greatly punished by the fact that this has come to light."

He sentenced Spear to six months of weekend imprisonment.

Orange County lies about two hours north of New York City. It is a semi-rural county with both farmers and commuters. Some residents, in outraged letters to the newspaper, say that the girl was the provocateur. Others, like members of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, which has been picketing the prison, say it is the old story in rape cases: "Society looks at the woman as the criminal," one NOW member said. Edward Spear says only that he "still love s the girl and would like nothing better than for her to get her life squared away." The girl, who now finds herself with an attorney who says he plans to sue Spear, the county and the private foster placement group for $5 million, stares at her feet and speaks in angry fragments. She refers to not a few of the people who have so recently taken an interest in her as "creeps."

Had she liked the Spear family when first she met them, the girl, who prefers to be known only as "Tina," is asked.

"If I didn't, I woulda be sent to the institution," she says.

The Spear case first came to light this past February, in a manner that, in a way, typifies the complexity of the case: Tina, who had been living in her foster home sporadically, was arrested, in the company of a 52-year-old man, after allegedly stealing jewelry from her foster home. In a statement to the police, Tina said she did not want to return to the Spears because her foster father had molested her. (According to a report in the local Times Herald-Record, in Middletown, Tina refused to sign a complaint against Spear, because, she said, she loved him.) Rape charges were ultimately brought only because a Goshen attorney, who had represented a neighbor of Spear in an unrelated dispute, heard of the allegations. He sought out Tina, he says frankly, because "our major interest was to discredit Spear." In March, Spear was indicted for second-degree rape, which is having consentual sex with a girl younger than 14; third-degree rape, in which the victim is between l4 and l7, and one count of sexual abuse. All but the third-degree charge were later dropped.

Born in the run-down Coney Island section of Brooklyn, the 12th of 13 children, Tina was given up for foster care at the age of 2. "I guess I was a hassle or there were too many of us or something," she says. She was placed with the Mother Cabrini Foundation, a private Roman Catholic group with homes in upstate New York. Citing confidentiality, the director of the Cabrini facility near Kingston, James Lavelle, declined comment on Tina's background. Attorneys confirm, however, that she was placed in 10 homes by the time she was 10, including a time with an aunt. The aunt gave her up, says Tina, "because she didn't love me." How did she know? "The social worker told me," she says.

The Spears, with their 200-year-old brown shingled home on a country road, represented both stability and severity to Tina. She had the nicest room she had ever lived in, decorated to her taste, with a baby blue ceiling and pink and yellow and blue wallpaper. Nancy Spear was an attentive foster mother, bringing her children to watch Tina play basketball and soccer. Tina was also expected to attend church regularly with the family, on Sundays and holy days. And Edward Spear, claims Tina, was strict. On occasion, he hit Tina with a leather belt, she says, when she did poorly in school -- and she was not a good student.

Intimacy, she claims, began when she was 12 -- though there are two version of this.

The attorney for the defense, Joel Aurnou -- notes the rape charge that survived applies to victims 14 or older. He says darkly there is "a sharp dispute over who started what" and will say no more.

As Tina tells it, her foster fathertook the initiative. He appeared naked when she was in the bathroom. She ran out and "just cried." The following weekend, he had sex with her in her bedroom. She "couldn't move," she says. She was "scared." "He did all the talking." She did not want to tell her foster mother -- "I couldn't hurt her like that" -- and she was afraid to tell anyone else. Her foster father, she claimed, told her it would destroy her if she spoke out.

"He said, 'If you ever told anybody, you would kill yourself' . . . he meant I couldn't handle all the questions and newspapers."

Despite those warnings, by the time Tina was 15 she both tried to escape and tried to reach out. She ran away frequently to Brooklyn, to her natural family. She asked to be taken to counseling, and her foster parents took her to the Child Studies Center in Goshen, but after several sessions, Edward Spear told Tina she could no longer continue -- she theorizes because he had been confronted by the therapist. (Therapist Karla Potter, citing confidentiality, would not comment.) Tina notified Mother Cabrini. They came for her the next day, and before they took her away, there was an exchange between foster father and daughter: self-concern and anger on his part, guilt on hers.

"My dad came upstairs and said, 'I never believed you'd do this to me.' . . . I was crying and crying . . . I told him I lied . . ."

Faced with Cabrini -- where, she says, there were bars on the windows -- Tina told both Cabrini and the Spears she had lied, and begged to be taken home. She was brought back to the Spears, and she sought out another therapist, at the Middletown Community Health Center. The therapist, claims Tina, promised to keep her secret, but after her session she heard her speaking with her foster parents. (The center, citing confidentiality, said such an action by a therapist would be counter to a policy of confidentiality.) On the way home, she says, her foster mother screamed at her.

"She said, 'Why are you such a filthy liar? You get me sick.' She knocked me in the face," says Tina.

Tina ran away again.

The problems of making a case with Tina were evident immediately to the Orange County District Attorney's Office. Reed-thin from amphetamines, concerned about hurting her foster family, angry and "immature," Tina was an ambivalent and nervous witness.

"We had to almost carry her through the grand jury to get her testimony -- she was a girl who was emotionally distraught," said Orange County District Attorney Joseph Brown.

She was also in the position, Aurnou said in court, of a girl who had broken into the home of the family that had taken her in. She could be portrayed as a girl who had betrayed the kindness of a family in which one foster uncle had been the president of the Orange County Right to Life Movement and another ran a youth group associated with the church.

Nor was Spear about to capitulate. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and hired Aurnou, the criminal lawyer who haddefended former Madeira School headmistress Jean Harris against charges that she had murdered her lover, Scarsdale Diet Doctor Herman Tarnower.

The district attorneys countered with their own heavy artillery: a tape recording of a conversation between Tina and her foster father. They will not reveal what those tapes said, but sources -- including Tina -- report it was powerful.

"I said, 'Remember that time we had sex and you told me to go to confession before my confirmation -- I never did,' " says Tina. "He said, 'Why are you telling me this?' I said, 'Because I want to go to confession and I don't know what to say' . . . He told me what to say, 'Forgive me Father, for I have sinned, I have been having a sexual relationship with my father'. . ."

The tapes, says Brown, "made the case . . . when the defense heard them it made him very amenable about not wanting to go to trial."

The tapes did not, however, give the D.A. everything he needed. The evidence in the higher felony -- consentual sex with a girl younger than 14 -- was "very thin," Brown says. Nor did he feel Tina would necessarily "be able to stand up on the witness stand without totally collapsing." And while the lower felony, third-degree rape, was punishable by a maximum of four years, it was, said assistant district attorney Ned Kopold, who prosecuted the case, "obvious the defendant would not have pled guilty if he knew he was going to get four years."

There was, then, no trial. Edward Spear pleaded guilty to third-degree rape, which is consentual intercourse with a victim over the age of 14. The District Attorney's Office asked for a one-year sentence. Attorney Aurnou, however, asked for less. Spear, Aurnou argued, was "manipulated by someone going on 30 or 32." The "real victim," Aurnou argued, was Spear's wife.

"So Edward Spear made a mistake," he said. "The crime . . . is not a crime of violence," he said. "It's a crime . . . that grew out of a situation where he loved not wisely but too well . . ."

He asked for an "intermittent" sentence, noting that the probation report has suggested the same. Judge Louis B. Scheinman, an acting judge from neigboring Sullivan County, agreed. After the sentencing, when the criticism came, he said that he was known to be a "tough sentencer," who only the week before had sentenced a man to 25 years in jail for rape. He said that he was concerned, in sentencing, about the degree to which defendant already had been punished by the notoriety surrounding the incident.

"I had a case where a man was indicted for sexual abuse -- he was next to a girl's camp and molested them under the covers at night. After the indictment the man hung himself in his garage," he said. "Spear was a man who was married with six children, very active in his church, well known in the community . . . compare the punishment to him and his children already, to, let's say, someone who is a bowery bum and doesn't read the newspaper and couldn't care less . . ."

The judge also said he took into consideration the degree to which a victim had been hurt.

"Some kids, when subjected to sexual activity, are hurt by the incident; a young boy raped by an adult male could become a homosexual," he said. "This kid was not hurt . . . had she been a girl whose morals had been compromised it would be a completely different situation . . ."

"Third-degree rape is consentual intercourse with someone under age; this girl was evidently quite experienced and streetwise."

"It was a completely voluntary situation," he said.

On the question of responsibility, Kopold strongly disagrees. "That girl came into the house at age 10 and whatever she was at age 14, Mr. Spear certainly was a very significant contributing factor."