Criminal Justice

Will Claim of Histrionic Personality Disorder Help Jerry Sandusky?

Lawyers for Jerry Sandusky claim the defendant’s extensive correspondence with one of his accusers was likely a symptom of histrionic personality disorder, rather than an attempt to groom the boy for molestation.

Some experts question whether the claim can do much to help the defense, report the Associated Press and the Philadelphia Inquirer. People with histrionic personality disorder have an excessive need for attention, are overemotional and attention-seeking, and often exhibit sexually seductive behavior.

One expert interviewed by AP, psychiatry professor Glen Gabbard of the Baylor College of Medicine, said histrionic personality disorder can’t be viewed as an explanation for child abuse. “That diagnosis, if he has it, would be completely irrelevant to anything having to do with criminal responsibility for acts of pedophilia,” Gabbard told AP.

Temple University psychiatry professor William Dubin told the Inquirer he’s skeptical. Sandusky is “grasping at straws,” Dubin said. “I can’t imagine this kind of personality being a successful football coach. A certain discipline, a certain attention to detail, a certain persistence is required, and these are qualities that don’t exist in a histrionic person.”

Psychologist Thomas Haworth told the Inquirer he’s surprised Sandusky’s lawyers haven’t suggested possible brain damage from the time the defendant played football at Pennsylvania State University. “I have seen older men that have no history of pedophilia have some event in their brain like a tumor … and start to develop sexual behavior problems,” Haworth said.

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