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Debra Lafave, Media Sensationalism, and Rethinking Statutory Rape

December 5th, 2007 by Glenn Sacks, MA for Fathers & Families

I’ve little sympathy for Debra Lafave (pictured above), who at 23 statutorily raped a 14-year-old boy. She got the female sentencing discount and did not go to jail because she’s a woman. A five-year study conducted by a Kansas State University professor found that male teachers are likely to get 15 to 20 years in prison for sexual relations with students, whereas female teachers usually are placed on probation or go to prison for one to three years. Paul Logli, president of the National District Attorneys Association, says:

“There is no question it’s more likely that as a case winds its way through the court, in more cases the woman is going to get probation, whereas the man, under the same circumstances, is going to get prison.”

To learn more, see my blog post Extreme Gender Bias: Woman Who Statutorily Raped Boy Avoids Jail, While Boy’s Older Brother Goes to Prison for Exact Same Crime.

However one feels about Lafave’s crimes, the recent media furor over her seems rather petty. In screaming headlines the New York Post reports in EX-TEACHER DEBRA LAFAVE BUSTED AGAIN (12/4/07) that Lafave had “illegal contact with a teenager.” Sounds sinister, right? Turns out that all Lafave apparently did was have a private conversation with a 17-year-old girl she works with. It does violate her probation, but it hardly merits such sensationalism.

I also think some of this statutory rape stuff is overdone. A 23-year-old with a 14-year-old goes too far, but I think it’s ridiculous that we have 21 year-old men going to jail for having sex with 17-year-old girls, or 19-year-old boys going to jail for having sex with 16-year-old girls.

In fact, a friend’s grandparents recently celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary, and it was publicized in local papers, as it should be, since it’s such an achievement. But looking at the story and doing a little math made me realize that if the two of them had gotten together today, he would go to jail–he was 21 and she was 17 when they got married in 1922. Then it was perfectly normal–now it’s a crime. Why?

[Late note: the Kansas University study is discussed in Child-sex cases raise questions of gender bias (Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, 3/11/06). The Logli quote is from Backup of Female Sex Offenders Drawing Increased Scrutiny (Los Angeles Times, 1/13/06).]

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