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'I should be in jail' for sex fling with boy, Lafave says

In a TV interview, the ex-teacher under house arrest says her "bizarre" acts may relate to a childhood rape.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published September 14, 2006


Debra Lafave's boyfriend raped her in eighth grade. Her father was emotionally distant. She has bipolar disorder.

Those are some of the things the notorious and pretty 25-year-old middle school teacher-turned-sex offender told Matt Lauer during her exclusive interview on Dateline NBC Wednesday night.

"I think I should be in jail," Lafave told Lauer in one of the most surprising statements during the hourlong segment. The former teacher is sentenced to three years' house arrest after a deal she reached with Hillsborough County prosecutors for pleading guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery.

Through lips painted blood-red, Lafave spoke of her 2004 affair with a 14-year-old student with a mix of self-criticism, regret and cynical laughter.

When Lauer asked her how an innocent school field trip to SeaWorld developed into a sexual relationship with a student, Lafave seemed stumped.

"That's what I want to know," she marveled, her well-photographed blue eyes getting bigger as she spoke. "That's why things are so bizarre in my mind because it did go from something so innocent to, bam!"

Lafave painted a picture of herself as a "modest" person who developed an emotionally destructive identity early in her life in part due to her own sexual experience. She had emotional problems that stemmed to her childhood - she suffered serious depression and manic phases. She cried for no reason and sometimes found it impossible to do the most basic things in life: brush her teeth, fix a meal, get up from bed.

In the eighth grade, she said, a boyfriend raped her in the restroom of her school. When a teacher found them, the teacher thought it was consensual and didn't report them.

Lafave said she never told the teacher she was being forced to have sex against her will, even though she felt violated.

She described her 14-year-old student victim as being very flirtatious, yelling out to her with his friends from the ballfield.

Of her first time engaging in oral sex with him, she said, "Yeah, he wanted it and yeah, I gave it to him."

Though Lafave admitted she crossed a line, she said she felt her victim did, too. According to her account, the teenager at one point held her against the wall and lifted her shirt to expose her breast to another boy.

When Lauer asked her why she didn't do anything about his actions if she felt they were uncalled for, she explained that at an early age she began to associate negative attention with love because her father was "emotionally absent." The only interaction they would have when she was a child, she said, was "when he would get mad at me."

When pressed, she denied that she was using mental illness or her father's remoteness to excuse what happened.

"I'm going to be the first person to say, yes, it's my fault, and I'm dealing with that," she said.

Near the end of the interview, Lafave said that while she regrets her actions, she still does not think of herself as a rapist or a child molester.

In fact, she said, she didn't ever really think of herself that way. The moment she realized she was surrounded by police officers, she said, she had no clue what was in store.

"My immediate thought: Did I run a stop sign?"