Wrong and Inconsistent Standards of Conduct

Earlier this year a 23-year-old teacher named Debra Lafave has convicted of having sex with her 14-year-old student on school property.  It was a long-lasting “relationship”, in which she claimed that the child was her boyfriend, even though by her own admission, they had little in common (duh!).  When they were eventually found out, she was arrested, tried and pleaded insanity to the charge of “committing lewd or lascivious battery on a person under age 16”.  A Florida judge gave her 3 years of house arrest followed by 4 years of probation.  Florida has instituted Jessica’s law, which dictates mandatory 25-year minimum jail sentences for child sex offenders when the victim is 12 years old or younger.  However, even though there were mitigating circumstances that should have worsened the crime and lengthened her sentence — she was the boy’s teacher, which is an authority figure — she was given only three years probation. 

Recently, Lafave appeared on the Today Show and a few others programs claiming that she was raped as a child herself (at the age of 13 by a 13-year-old boy in her school) and that she is bipolar.  She claimed that she was telling her story in order to raise awareness of the disease (which is in fact very serious).  And there are now surfacing rumors of a potential book deal about the whole sorted affair.

So, I have several thoughts, comments and questions about this case…

First, this sentence was incredibly light.  This woman should be in prison, not on the Today Show.  She should be considered a criminal sex offender who raped a young boy and destroyed his life, not glamorized on television and signing book deals.  If this woman were a man, she’d be in prison for 30 years.  But because she’s an attractive woman (see picture, not to mention that she was in Playboy back in ’91 — not that I looked that one up… 

… a flagrant double standard kicks in and here she is talking with Matt Lower about how she’s the victim. 

This is just plain wrong, and my question is why?  Why is there a double standard?  Why can a beautiful woman like this get off the hook?  Why do so many people think that this boy should be lauded as macho for “getting some” from his hot teacher, rather than pitied for the reality that he more than likely faces a lifetime of therapy and difficult relationships?  After all, his parents have made it very clear that he was severely emotionally traumatized over the whole thing.  Has our society been so over-sexualized that we are now inclined to let people get away with this stuff as long as they look good in front of the camera?

My second question is whether or not anyone buys the insanity plea?  She blames it on being raped herself (although her story there is full of holes).  And althogh that would be horrible, sad and traumatic (if true), it still doesn’t excuse her choices as an adult.  And the evidence doesn’t really support her bipolar claim either.  Even if she does have the disease (which I doubt), that also doesn’t excuse her.  She should be in a hospital getting help, not on the Today Show getting legitimized — arguably even glorified.

My third question is about the judge and the justice system.  How can these judges get away with these kinds of light sentences?  Have our standards of conduct disintegrated so far that we no longer think stuff like this is a big deal?  Do we really worship sex so much that we admire for the kid for doing something about being “hot for teacher”?  Do people even realize that this kid was raped!?  That his life has now been turned upside down by something that should never have happened to him?  It’s not cool.  It’s not macho.  It’s horribly sad.

Lastly, what’s with the blatantly obvious double standard?  I guess we also worship sexy people to the point that being in Playboy in ’91 is enough to get you off the hook (3 years house arrest vs. 30 years in the slammer = off the hook, as far as I’m concerned) for royally screwing up a kid’s life?  No pun intended.  What’s up with that?  Womens’ rights groups should be going crazy with anger at how this woman was treated differently than a man in her position, right?  Just like human rights groups should be furious about what happened to this poor kid, right?  Where are they?

So, the summary (and I know this will come as a shock) is that I’m appalled … by all of it.  What do you think?

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About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Christ. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long journey, learning to swim with the current of God's love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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4 Responses to Wrong and Inconsistent Standards of Conduct

  1. Brad Bull says:

    I agree. I was very disappointed in the outcome of this. The insanity plea was pretty obvious. I think any competent defense lawyer would go that route, but saying you are bipolar does not make it so. I have not followed well enough to know if she is diagnosed, but either way it does not eliminate what happened.

    Much of the glamorization and hype has come from the media and we are in a sad state of affairs if this effected the judges decision.

    It is very unfortunate that an 18 yr old male could be branded a sex offender for the rest of his life for a consentual act with a 16 yr old, but this authority figure abusing her trust is getting away with it.

    It is true that a very large majority of pedophiles are male and are typically related or closely acquanted to their victim, so a case like this is very unusual (hence the media attention has some basis).

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  2. Jeff Block says:

    Brad and I agree! Someone write it down. But we knew it wouldn’t last, so…

    > It is very unfortunate that an 18 yr old male could be branded a sex offender for the rest of his life for a consentual act with a 16 yr old…

    I agree that should NOT be the same as a 40 year old raping a 12 year old. Seems like a decent approach to child abuse laws would be to make the severity of the crime relative to the number of years different in age.

    Either way, it gets complicated fast. And I can’t imagine a better example of how legislating morality just doesn’t work well. Once people abaondon moral self-governance, we careen into an endless spiral of ever-increasingly-complex laws attempting to compromise — and typically not doing the greatest job at it.

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  3. Neva says:

    Well, a lot to think about here, so I’ll try to get my response somewhat organized by topic. I’ll probably fail on that.

    First off, as to how fair the sentence is or is not. I don’t think the 25-30 year figure you mentioned is really that relevant; that law applies to victims under age 12, which this boy was not. In this instance, the distinction isn’t about gender; it’s about age. In order to determine whether the sentence is fair, we’d need to know what the typical sentence is for nonviolent/coercive statutory rape in Florida. That’s what we should be comparing to in this case.
    That being said, if three years of house arrest is typical for this type of case, that’s a whole separate problem right there.

    As for the more general question of gender bias in questions of sex/rape, there’s no doubt that it exists. For one thing, heterosexual rape of a male is not very common and not as easy for people to envision happening, biologically as well as socially, so it doesn’t get much attention. Female rape victims have enough trouble making people believe them; it must be infinitely harder for male victims. It’s societally “acceptable” (and physiologically easier) to picture a female as a passive party to sex. Males, on the other hand, are supposed to be testosterone-driven and unwilling to pass up the opportunity for sex with someone even halfway decent looking.
    Overall, society and the media have a lot to answer for in the creation of gender roles in general and especially how they relate to sex and rape.

    As for the insanity defense, I think it’s fairly predictable in this case. Most abusers (of whatever form) justify their actions by claiming they were abused; look at Congressman Foley or just about any domestic batterer. It’s a lot better to be a victim than a villain, after all. Is it an excuse, or even a valid justification? Of course not. Having been injured yourself is never a reason to injure someone else. But if an abuser can shift the focus from their crimes to wrongs done to them, then they won’t have to feel quite so bad about themselves.
    I won’t even comment on her claims to be bipolar, having never met/observed the woman and not being qualified to diagnose the condition anyway. Suffice to say that if she wasn’t basing that claim on a diagnosis made prior to her arrest, I’m highly skeptical.

    Then there’s all the publicity and the book deal… Repulsive as it may be, scandal and sex sell, plain and simple. If we really want the media to quit promoting people like this, we need to show them it’s not in their best interests financially. Given freedom of speech and press in a capitalistic society, there’s no other way to control it. So don’t watch shows that give her airtime for her sob story, and complain to your local station about running them. If and when the book comes out, don’t buy it (obviously). Find out who’s publishing it and boycott them; let them know you’re doing it and why. I really don’t see any other way to stop the publicization and commercialization of this type of behavior; as long as it’s profitable, someone will try to make a profit from it.

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  4. Jeff Block says:

    > In order to determine whether the sentence is fair, we’d need to know what the typical sentence is for nonviolent/coercive statutory rape in Florida.

    According to a prosecutor I saw interviewed, it should be closer to the 25-30 year mark. I know that Jessica’s Law does not apply (think I mentioned that in my post), but the mitigating circumstance that she was his teacher should theoretically make the penalty much more severe. So, lower because of age, but higher because of her authoritative role in his life.

    Also, I completely agree with both your “sex sells” and your “the only option is not to watch these shows” arguments. It’s been exhilerating to agree with both Neva and Brad today. 🙂

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