Thursday, June 21, 2012

The psychiatric defense


Individuals with severe psychiatric disorders can be judged "insane" by the legal authorities, but not mental health professionals. While that may sound a bit odd and contradictory, it's the way it is now because "insane" is not something in the professional literature; it's a legal term.  Simply put, it means that someone did not have the ability to know right from wrong when they committed a criminal act.  Can people with serious psychiatric disorders know right from wrong? Yes, some of them do know and yet are compelled by their illness to forge ahead and commit a crime.  Others, without a severe psychiatric disorder, may go ahead with a criminal act because they believe they are entitled to something or they justify it to themselves.  These individuals may have a diagnosable personality disorder, but should that be a legal defense in the case of pedophilia?  In my professional opinion, it is as far from a legal defense as the distance between China and California.

The child sex abuse case against Jerry Sandusky used as its defense the fact that Mr. Sandusky now has a diagnosis of Histrionic Personality Disorder, a disorder usually given to women and which derives its name from a Greek word for womb.  It is a disorder which is characterized by acting or looking overly seductive (did Sandusky do this?), being overly influenced by others, being overly concerned with looks, overly dramatic and emotional, overly sensitive to criticism or disapproval, believing that relationships are more intimate than they are, blaming others for failure or disappointment, constantly seeking reassurance or approval, low tolerance for frustration or delay of gratification, self-centered, quickly changing emotions.  

I'm not an expert or a specialist on athletics or sports, but from what I've seen and read, a forceable, successful and demanding football coach at a top-ranked university does not display most, if any, of these characteristics or that coach would not be there for very long.  Then, I have to wonder who came up with this diagnosis for Sandusky. Did they use a computerized test or an interview? How experienced was the person doing the evaluation and did the legal team see this as a viable defense?  Was it ever used in a defense of this type and, if so, was it successful?  I recall that Jeffrey Dahmer used an insanity defense and if there was ever someone with a serious psychiatric disorder, it was Dahmer and he didn't succeed in that insanity defense.  The reasoning was, basically, because he knew what he was doing was wrong and seemed to function normally on his job and with others.  So, a defense of a personality disorder for someone accused of pedophilia? I think it's a stretch.

The boys with whom Sandusky alleged engaged in sexual activity were all prepubescent (under 13),  specific kids with absent fathers, less parental education, lower socioeconomic status, kids living in a divorced home, emotionally needy or unhappy kids. Does this sound like the kids in The Second Mile club that Sandusky started?  

Pedophiles are your good neighbors, your family friends, clergy, respected teachers and coaches and just about anyone you'd never think was a pedophile because they love kids so much and they have such good hearts and good manners.  They are above suspicion, but that's what makes them successful pedophiles.

Histrionic Personality Disorder for someone who has been accused of what must be seen as a pattern of pedophilia? Someone needs to go back and hit the books a bit more.