Thirteen years ago, Debra Lafave joined the ranks of Mary Kay Letourneau and Pamela Rogers Turner. What do they all have in common? They were all former teachers who were charged and jailed for performing lewd acts on a minor.
Lafave was arrested in 2004 after authorities found out she was having a sexual relationship with a student she taught at a Tampa Bay-area school. She was 24, and he was 14.
As soon as the news broke, Lafave became a subject of international news and scrutiny. Court documents revealed that the educator had sex with the boy multiple times in a week, including an encounter at her house.
In 2006, she pleaded guilty for two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior, but attributed her actions to bipolar disorder. She told the court that she was receiving treatment at the time.
“My greatest regret would probably be the fact that I put this young man through this,” she said in court.
LaFave faced up to 30 years in prison, but due to a plea deal because the victim's family did not want a trial, she was only sentenced to three years house arrest and seven years probation. She also had to register as a sex offender.
The former teacher had hoped that she would fade into obscurity after completing her punishment, but thirteen years isn't long enough for people to forget.
"We’d go to the mall, and people just stare,” her friend and Latin singer Joe Zuniga, told People. "She looks the exact same. She still gets hate mail about it. She hates the attention."
Zuniga, who is one of very few people who stuck by Lafave's side, recently teamed up with the disgraced teacher to write a book about her life titled Debra Lafave: A Crown of Beauty for Ashes. He also opened up to People about how much Lafave has changed since the scandal.
Zuniga explained that Lafave is fully aware of the severity of her actions in 2004, and she "makes no excuses for what she did."
"She has always owned up to it. She says, ‘If I could turn back time, I’d never would do that.’ She understands that she didn’t just negatively affect her life, but she hurt many other people, and she is still very sorry for it."
Having completed community service and sex offender therapy, Lafave filed an appeal to have her probation end four years early in 2011. The court ruled in her favor, but the victim's family appealed the decision, and it was reversed in 2012. However, the court ruled in her favor again in 2014, and she was released from her sentence a year early.
Lafave, now 37 years old, lives in a 3-bedroom home in Tampa with her family. She is a mother to twins boys, and got married again.
"She’s a completely different person then she was when she was 24,” said Zuniga. He also revealed that Lafave "has grown up at lot" and "has become a Christian."
"She just ignores the media. She knows it will always be there, but she focuses on her life now. It’s very normal," he added.
If Zuniga is correct about one thing, it is that Lafave definitely doesn't want to be the focus of the media. She has not given an interview since 2014, and has not responded to any requests.
"Everyone contacts her to tell her story," said Zuniga. "I’ve asked her why she wouldn’t, and she says she’s just not interested in the attention. She wants to just live her life as a wife and mom."
Do you remember watching Lafave's story on the news?