For those who have been living under a rock for the last year… a brief summary of the Sandusky Trial is that a long-time assistant coach of the Penn State football program, who founded and was active in a Child Charity called The Second Mile, has been accused of at least 10 counts of child abuse, if not more, by victims from that charity. Witnesses from the Penn State coaching organization admit seeing him bring boys into the staff locker room to shower on many occasions, and several victims tell of avalanche of gifts and begging for help at Sandusky’s home, which his wife disputes. There were reports and nothing was done over years. This trial is the beginning of what will be major discussions in all these matters.
People following the Jerry Sandusky case currently on trial for multiple counts of child abuse in PA have come upon psychological term debated in the mental health community; Sandusky’s defense has floated the diagnosis of histrionic personality disorder. As PCM readers are discerning of the facts and want to know the details in such an important case, I’ll explain this rare and bizarre condition so that trial watchers can be better informed. I wrote for PCM about this Penn State University case earlier so I’m trying to keep readers informed about the trickier points amid the media blitz.
Directly quoted from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th Edition Revised; (They are currently at work on a 5th edition to rock the world of mental health.) a personality disorder, as opposed to a psychological condition, is an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress/impairment. Histrionic Personality Disorder is a pattern of excessive emotionality and attention seeking. So to explain, an individual forms a disorder of personality , not to be confused with a mental condition or confusion, over a lifetime by consistent life-altering patterns so unusual they would be noticed or hidden due to their difficult nature.
I suspect the defense is hoping a ‘Hail Mary’ strategy in one of the diagnostic features of HPD is “The appearance and behavior of individuals with this disorder are often inappropriately sexually provocative or seductive.” However the debatable point in psychological diagnosis and legal precedent is that while this individual histrionic personality may be excessive, emotional, manipulative, and maladaptive…. the ultimate question is ‘does this individual know right from wrong?’
HPD Histrionic Personality Disorder used to be levied upon women back in the inequitable legal-psychological days when women and young girls were viewed as hyper-emotional, lacking cognitive powers, manipulative, and sexual temptresses. HPD was used successfully back in those horrid days to wheedle women out of marriage protections, rights to children, property, and freedom, and while I admit I am not a legal researcher, I do not understand by definition how it could absolve anyone from personal responsibility in their actions against others. Of course the hot topic is the demonstration of Sandusky’s unusual propensity to write love letters to his victims. While this may be snatched upon as ‘proof’ of HPD … they or nothing else absolve a functioning adult from the knowledge between right and wrong deeds. Did Sandusky pay his taxes, mow his lawn, give gifts, wear deodorant, and stop at red lights during these years despite his HPD? Then he knew right from wrong.
So now you know why the pundits are lacking enthusiasm for this defense strategy…in a case which, like the Casey Anthony trial, is so reprehensible, is can’t help but be tried in the court of public opinion.
Gail-Elaine Tinker, M.S. is a Counseling Psychotherapist in private practice in the Lehigh Valley, PA who specializes in a positive and holistic approach to addiction, chronic pain, grief and trauma issues along with advocacy, life coaching, and public speaking. You are welcome to contact her via www.tinkerpsychotherapy.com and 610.216.4319 for consultation.