Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Anyone She Wanted: The Sexual Offense of Debra Lafave

Lafave and Lauer

The stated reason for the interview was so the Dateline journalists could discover how and why a 23-year-old woman would seduce a 14-year-old boy and whether, in this case, an offender had paid the appropriate price.

Debra LaFave
Debra LaFave

Lafave, calm and controlled, began by admitting that she's recognized in public and often gets snickers and stares. She understood that her case got so much attention because she's pretty and because "sex sells." But, for her, the intensity of the media interest was daunting.

Changing the subject, Lafave admitted that she's troubled and that the long string of problems she had experienced over her lifetime influenced poor decision-making. She revealed that she had experienced anxiety disorders since childhood, ranging from panic attacks to obsessions. A boyfriend had also raped her when she was in eighth grade. "I kind of developed this idea that it was my role," she said in response to the question of why she did not report it or ask for help. "In order to make a man, guy, boy happy, I had to do my part." (However, her description of the incident involved a teacher interrupting the "rape," and Debra saying nothing to save herself, nor avoiding the boy, who continued to "force" himself on her. In fact, he was her boyfriend.)

She went on to describe her substance abuse and eating disorder, along with her suicide attempt. She also described her modeling jobs and aspiration to become a teacher. Yet at school, she said, she'd developed a problem with depression and then her beloved older sister was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver.

Finally, Lafave became an eighth grade reading teacher. According to what she said in her interview, she wanted to educate children about rape. Lauer pointed out the grim irony, given the circumstance, but she side-stepped it. In her mind, she'd been an unwilling participant in her own rape, whereas M. M. had consented. She could not explain how the situations differed, but they just did.

Lafave says she associated sex with sin and filth, and had a difficult time being a wife. Nevertheless, she appreciated the friendship, especially during recurring periods of bipolar disorder, with stretches of deep depression and periods of exuberant mania. Her energy apparently captured the attention of many of the boys in her class.

Then she described how she got involved with M. M., putting the onus on him for being flirtatious. At the time, she did not feel like an adult. Although Lafave admitted that she had "crossed a line that should've never been crossed," she still implicated the boy as the initiator.

Lafave went on to say that the affair made her feel confident and beautiful, and she wasn't about to stop; She felt invincible. Finally she told the boy she could not stop thinking about him, and she described her first sexual encounters with him. At this point, she clearly blames him, as she describes how, on the last day of class, he forced her against the wall and lifted her blouse. She wasn't able to stop him. "I felt violated." This version contradicts his, and given her machinations to get M. M. into her classroom, her remarks to Lauer seem implausible. He appeared skeptical, too, especially since she did not then avoid him but went out of her way to be with him.

Lafave defended herself on this point by resorting to her rape excuse, that due to abuse her feelings were confused. She also threw some blame on her father for not being emotionally engaged with her.

Despite what she did, Lafave insisted that she was a modest woman. She also said she was in a fog during this time and never thought about the possibility that other boys who knew about this affair were telling others. "I felt that I was a peer of theirs," she said. She admitted that she should probably be in jail.

She also wanted to correct some misjudgments that she believed had arisen from statements M. M. had made that were "not true." He'd said that she knew that what she was doing was wrong and it made the situation even more erotic. Then she added another mitigating factor, saying that 14-year-olds today are different than when she was 14. Her final words to Lauer were that, despite the label, "I am not a sex offender." She was just a woman who'd made a poor choice.

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