Jerry Sandusky’s legal team is claiming that the former Penn State coach suffers from histrionic personality disorder, which is why he corresponded so extensively with his alleged victims and exhibited sexually seductive behavior. It is the type of argument that tends to leave many jurors unconvinced and can be viewed as too clever by half.
In one such communication, Sandusky wrote a boy:
“What was your reaction when you first met me? Did you care at all about me as a person? Can you be trusted? Do you appreciate me? When you give your word, does it have any meaning? Do you take pride in conquering people? What is love? What would you miss if a magician would make me disappear?”
Psychiatry professor Glen Gabbard of the Baylor College of Medicine rejected the notion that the disorder could be a defense of these types of charges — the view of a number of experts in the field. Here is the description of the disorder and its symptoms:
Histrionic personality disorder is a condition in which people act in a very emotional and dramatic way that draws attention to themselves.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The cause of this disorder is unknown. Both genes and early childhood events are thought to contribute. It occurs more often in women than in men, although it may be diagnosed more often in women because attention-seeking and sexual forwardness are less socially acceptable for women.
Histrionic personality disorder usually begins in early adulthood.
People with this disorder are usually able to function at a high level and can be successful socially and at work.
Acting or looking overly seductive
Being easily influenced by other people
Being overly concerned with their looks
Being overly dramatic and emotional
Being overly sensitive to criticism or disapproval
Believing that relationships are more intimate than they actually are
Blaming failure or disappointment on others
Constantly seeking reassurance or approval
Having a low tolerance for frustration or delayed gratification
Needing to be the center of attention (self-centeredness)
Quickly changing emotions, which may seem shallow to others
The problem with this disorder is that it sounds like many people who I have encountered in life. We used to just say that they had “bad personalities.” I doubt this is likely to be viewed in a more clinical way by the jury.
Elliot Atkins, a psychologist in private practice in the Philadelphia area, said that he found evidence of the disorder after interviewing Sandusky for six hours and reading his autobiography, “Touched.”
It would be difficult to see how any pedophile would not exhibit the same characteristics of this disorder. If the jury believes the earlier testimony of Sandusky being found having anal sex with a boy in the campus shower, it would seem to go beyond “acting or looking overly seductive.” There is a risk that the jury could find the argument insulting or opportunistic — pushing it further away from acquittal.