Chris Uggen's Blog: lafave sentence

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

lafave sentence reports that debra beasley lafave, a 25-year-old florida teacher, pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior for having sex with a 14-year-old student. she was sentenced to three years of house arrest, seven years probation, and she must register as a sex offender. conditions of her supervision also ban her from profiting financially from her crime.

ms. beasley lafave's photo is already posted on the florida department of law enforcement's sexual predator website. i've gotten somewhat familiar with these sites, since kim gardner began collecting data on the contents of state sex offender registries for her independent thesis project. here is the information that florida provides on debbie lafave:
Sex Offender

Debra Jean Beasley
Debra J Beasley, Debbie Lafave, Debra Lafave, Debra Beasley Lafave

Status: Community Control
Department of Corrections #: T47535 Date of Birth: 08-28-1980
Race: White Sex: Female Height: 5' 07"
Hair: Blond Eyes: Blue Weight: 135 lbs.
Scars, Marks, Tattoos: Tattoo Other:Butterfly On Hip; Tattoo Back:Butterfly; Tattoo Back:Chinese Character;
Last Reported Address: 406 12th St Sw, Ruskin, FL 33570-4182
County: Hillsborough Date Address Entered: 11-24-2005
Qualifying Offense(s): Lewd Or Lascivious Battery Victim 12-15 Years Old (Principal)
Victim(s): Gender: Male ; Minor? Yes Gender: Unknown ; Minor? Yes

aside from her gender and the enormous amount of publicity generated by the case, the entry for ms. lafave/beasley is not dissimilar to others on the site. her age, race, and offense are fairly typical, as are her tattoos. some observers have commented on her physical attractiveness, but even this characteristic is probably not that unusual in the databases (though nobody but sinatra actually looks good in a mug shot). nor is her crime all that unusual. for example, i searched under "beasley" and quickly found a similar case. bobby beasley is also 25 and also convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under 16.
Sex Offender Bobby Beasley
Alias: Bobby Ray Beasley, Red Beasley
Status: State Incarceration
Department of Corrections #: H08933 Date of Birth: 05-22-1980
Race: White Sex: Male Height: 6' 02"
Hair: Red Eyes: Brown Weight: 178 lbs.
Scars, Marks, Tattoos: Tattoo Right Chest Broken Heart Tattoo Right Chest Broken Heart Tattoo Tat
Last Reported Address: Dept. of Corrections, FL
County: Date Address Entered: 12-05-2001
Qualifying Offense(s): Lewd,Lascivious Child U/16 (Principal)
Victim(s): Gender: Unknown ; Minor? Yes
If further information is needed, please contact the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Sexual Offender/Predator Unit at (1-888-357-7332) between the hours of 8am and 6.30pm, Monday through Friday

i next searched under "debra" and easily found similar florida cases involving females (e.g., debra favre, who also got some publicity). i think the worldwide attention to lafave's situation is likely due to a combo platter of newsworthiness:
  • she's a teacher entrusted with middle school kids, which touches upon parents' fears;
  • the case is set against a backdrop of moral panic over (mostly) male sex offenders, particularly those who victimize children;
  • at 14, the victim in this case was "only" two years from the median age at first intercourse for males;
  • she has posed for calendars, which simultaneously validates her physical attractiveness and sexual desirability to males and makes for great television;
  • and, in a society in which males are viewed as either sexual predators or protectors, we're simply flummoxed by the idea of an adolescent male receiving "unwanted" sexual attention from an attractive young woman.
my point here is that debbie lafave's crimes are far more typical on sex offender registries than the coverage of her story would suggest. the cultural image of the sex offender is a person such as joseph duncan, accused of murder, kidnapping, and rape. yet we apply the same generalized label -- designation as a sex offender -- to duncan, lafave, and thousands of other lafaves.

lafave's sentence will seem light to many, since she isn't doing any jail or prison time beyond house arrest (i mean, even martha went to prison for a few months). for me, it highlights the difficulties in applying gradational punishments for criminal sexual conduct when a categorical "sex offender" stigma is applied to such diverse behaviors.


At 9:43 AM, Anonymous iago said...

I can sort of see why she got off relatively easy (no pun intended). It illustrates the complexity of our feelings about sex between adults and "minors."

In the eyes of the law, adolescents are not competent to consent to sexual activity. A boy can beg and plead for it on his knees, but Lafave was supposed to recognize that the kid is cognitively no different than someone who is mentally ill or retarded. But, at the same time, I think people deep down seem to think that a 14-year-old CAN consent--and indeed entice those poor and impressionable young adults. Remember the field notes one of the statutory rape cases from that old Briar and Piliavin piece on police decision-making and juveniles? Certainly one of the police officers bought into the story that the "victim" was the "instigator," her age notwithstanding. Maybe this was so with Lafave. It'd be interesting to know if judges really do agree with their respective jurisdictions' age of consent.

By the way, I can see why some of the students might've been humming "Hot for Teacher"...

At 11:52 PM, Blogger Tom Volscho said...

I found a couple of kids that went to my high school in the database in my state, very disturbing.

At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three years of House arrest? Seven years of probation? RSO for ten years? I don't think I could live with that. I probably and seriously would consider suicide. That said, all of us should consider her future and start talking about it. The world never will forgive her. In the minds of people she always will be considered a criminal even after her death. Under that stress what can we redommend for her? Certainly God will forgive her, but she is in the world. It's hard even thinking about her future. How's she going to face it? Her life I never could take. I definitely would have to consider suicide. On the other hand I guess I could live with God's love and take what the world throws at me. But who would ire me? Who will read her future writings? I have got to stop here. This is getting to me.

At 9:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I certainly have to agree with anonymous #1 above. Much more would I prefer prison to what Debra has. In prison there would be the security of those bars. With what Debra has there are no physical boundaries. I personally would prefer those boundaries, the bars. And as spectators I think we should talk about her future. It certainly doesn't help her for us to discuss what made her do what she did. Her plans to become a writer sounds great. Writing can serve not only as a career, but also as a therapy. If I were she, I wouldn't limit my writing to a single issue such as bipolar disability. I would generalize it.
After all she does have intelligence and a college education. I think I would get with some sort of forum and chat with others and opt for directions of endeavor. Debra could get into Christian journalism because God will forgive her before people. She could get into many different areas of interest. "Go get 'em, Debra!"

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