Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Anyone She Wanted: The Sexual Offense of Debra Lafave

The Details Emerge

Map of Florida with Hillsborough County Locator
Map of Florida with Hillsborough County Locator

Lafave was charged with lewd and lascivious behavior on an underage child in Hillsborough County. As part of the case preparation, M. M. had provided accurate details about Lafave's private parts and had fully described how she had initially seduced him. This was printed in Florida papers and found its way across the Internet.

Lafave's former husband, Owen, who said he'd stand by her but who divorced her shortly thereafter, indicated that Lafave cultivated the relationship for several weeks until she finally had a chance to get her target alone. Experts on sexual predators refer to this as "grooming:" The adult finds ways to break down the child's resistance and engage him or her in their scheme.

Debra & Owen LaFave
Debra & Owen LaFave

Once the arrest was made, the school suspended Lafave without pay and awaited the details. A number of her colleagues had watched the behavior of both this teacher and the boy over the past several months, many of them wondering where it was headed. Yet even when they heard the answer, they were shocked. Lafave had been an excellent teacher for two years, assisting many students to attain higher reading levels and relating to them with a great deal of devotion. They could only wonder how she'd gotten so badly derailed.

There weren't many, however, who blamed the boy. Even if he'd initiated contact or flirted with her, it was a teacher's responsibility to know the boundaries between herself and a student, and as the adult she was supposedly the mature one of the two. She should have stopped it. It appeared she had done the opposite.

The school board scheduled an emergency meeting for damage control and decisions. Whatever had gotten into this teacher, they all wondered, to make her behave so inappropriately? There were apparently many hooks on which she could hang her excuses. Owen Lafave and the Tampa Tribune both outlined them.

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