It was one of the first teacher sex scandals to gain international attention.
In 2004, Debra Lafave was a popular young English teacher at a Tampa-area middle school. Newly married to her husband, Owen, the 24-year-old was seemingly at the beginning of a long career in education.
But near the end of the school year, things started falling apart. According to court documents, Lafave accompanied a 14-year-old boy to see his cousin 100 miles away. The boy’s aunt grew concerned seeing the teen in the company of a skimpily-dressed adult woman. Later, the boy told his mother that he was having a sexual relationship with Lafave.
The boy told police officers in Temple Terrace, Florida, that he had sex with Lafave three times in four days, according to court documents. One of those times was allegedly in a car while his 15-year-old cousin drove them around. He also said she performed a sex act on him multiple times, including one encounter at her home.
Investigators began recording conversations between Lafave and the boy, and they arrested her in June 2004. She and Owen divorced the following year.
The case drew international attention, and became even bigger when Lafave’s attorney, John Fitzgibbons controversially told a judge, “To place Debbie into a Florida state women’s penitentiary, to place an attractive young woman in that kind of hellhole, is like putting a piece of raw meat in with the lions.”
In November 2006, Lafave pleaded guilty in Hillsborough County court to two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior. In court, she offered her “deepest apologies” to the boy and his family and said she was “deeply remorseful.” She also disclosed that she was undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder.
“My greatest regret would probably be the fact that I put this young man through this,” she said in court. She was sentenced to three years house arrest and seven years probation and was required to register as a sex offender.
Her Life Today
Lafave is now 37 years old, living in a modest 3-bedroom home in a small Tampa suburb. She reverted to her maiden name, Beasley, and has avoided media interviews. She has completed her required community service and sex offender classes; she paid back the $13,000 court fees.
She has worked several jobs that would not put her in contact with minors, including several jobs in the restaurant industry. In 2011, she was in a relationship with a restaurant owner, and gave birth to twin boys. The relationship didn’t work out, and in 2016 the couple went through a custody dispute, according to court records obtained by PEOPLE.
As a registered sex offender, Lafave is required to check in with the state regularly to give her whereabouts.
Earlier this year, Lafave’s friend, Joe Zuniga, wrote a book about her — and said that the former teacher signed off on it. Entitled “Debra Lafave: A Crown of Beauty for Ashes,” the self-published book is sympathetic to his friend, who Zuniga says has grown both spiritually and emotionally since the scandal.
“She is very good-hearted, and she does a lot for other people,” Zuniga told TampaBay.com in February.
According to Zuniga, Lafave has a small circle of friends and is living a quiet life. “”She clearly is sorry for what happened,” he said, acknowledging that Lafave still faces scorn for her actions. “There are always people who make ugly faces. For me, judging is for God.”