Sunday, June 17, 2012

Personality Disorder – or Justice Disorder?

After days of painful listening to the emotional, chin-quivering testimony of a parade of alleged victims in the Jerry Sandusky trial, the defense is poised to present its case. Their job is to present enough doubt as to the veracity of 17 felony charges to keep their client from spending the rest of his days behind bars.

So what’s the plan? Apparently, they’re poised to take the angle of a “personality disorder.” Histrionics. Who ever heard of “histrionics?” Is there really a disease that could legitimize the sodomizing of young boys? Well, well, well. How convenient. Are these lawyers really keeping their faces straight as they postulate such a defense? Really? 

Histrionic personality disorder (HPD) is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as "a personality disorder characterized by a pattern of excessive emotionality and attention-seeking, including an excessive need for approval and inappropriately seductive behavior, usually beginning in early adulthood. These individuals are lively, dramatic, vivacious, enthusiastic, and flirtatious." (This description fits a lot of my friends!) HPD is most commonly found in the United States and affects four times as many women as men.1 It has a prevalence of 2–3% in the general population, and 10–15% in inpatient and outpatient mental health institutions.2

So - let me understand this. The defense is going to postulate that Jerry Sandusky molested at least 10 (possibly more) children because he was seeking or starved for attention. The judge should wink at the sodomy, the cries for help, the theft of innocence, the betrayal of trust, the manipulative grooming processes, the pain and the ruination of families because Jerry was less than appropriate in the way he sought attention? Really. Poor Jerry.

Let’s be clear: justice must be served on behalf of people who have been victimized - it’s not a tool that can be warped to protect perpetrators.

Excuses for bad or criminal behavior are usually nothing more than manipulative responses to charges. Excuses cannot excuse crime. Genuine mitigating circumstances should not ever justify or excuse an offense – but may reduce the severity of a charge, and that’s the hope of the Sandusky lawyers.

But let’s look at this for a moment. A husband who molests a grandchild could protest going to prison on the grounds that grandma was getting too old to satisfy him - or that he had been influenced by a flood of pornographic images – or that the child was acting seductive around him – or that he was depressed and “not quite himself”... or whatever. Because he presents an excuse, should his punishment be lessened?

Roll the tape back to the testimony of the chin-quivering Sandusky victims. Their childhoods were stolen. They have experienced homicide of the soul. Their families have been sentenced to a lifetime of tormented efforts to help a wounded son or daughter navigate life and relationships. It doesn’t matter why the perpetrator destroyed their precious child - it just matters that he did it. The child needs justice. The parents need justice. The community needs justice. The perpetrator needs to be locked up.

Are the Sandusky lawyers postulating a personality disorder for Jerry Sandusky – or attempting to establish a justice disorder for his victims?

1. Seligman, Martin E.P. (1984). “Chapter 11”. Abnormal Psychology. W. W. Norton & Company.
2. “Chapter 16: Personality Disorders”. DSM-IV-TR Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. American Psychiatric Publishing, 2000.

© Diane Roblin-Lee - June 15/12