Although former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky denied he sexually abused young boys in a national media interview, psychiatrists say one characteristic shared by many sex offenders is their tendency to downplay their inappropriate behaviors.
Sandusky admitted to NBC’s Bob Costas that he “horsed around with kids,” and showered with them after workouts, but insisted there was no sexual attraction to the boys.
“It’s a general characteristic of sex offenders to minimize the severity of their actions,” said Dr. Jon Shaw, professor and director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Shaw stressed his comment refers to sex offenders in general and not to Sandusky since he is not involved in the case and has not examined Sandusky.
Sexual molestation, said forensic psychiatrist Dr. Harold Bursztajn, is a crime of opportunity that is much more an expression of vanity and aggression than of sexuality.
“There’s a need to protect one’s vanity which leads people to minimize and rationalize their behavior,” said Bursztajn, a forensic psychiatrist and senior clinical faculty member at Harvard Medical School. Bursztajn was also referring to offenders in general and not specifically to Sandusky since he is not involved in the case and has not examined Sandusky.
While Sandusky said he only engaged in non-sexual hugging and touching, a former graduate assistant said he saw Sandusky raping a 10-year-old child in the shower. Sandusky denied the assault occurred and said the graduate assistant’s account was “false.” Sandusky referred to the incident as “horseplay.”
Bursztajn explained that in cases involving accusations of sexual abuse, experts need to look at all the details and context of each situation before determining whether crimes were committed.
The former coach’s attorney, Joseph Amendola, told CNN that his client’s behavior was not criminal in any way.
On Monday’s Good Morning America, ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams said Sandusky will have a tough time proving that each of the allegations, when considered separately, is false.
“The problem is when you take them together, they are so consistent — the type of grooming, the type of activity, etc.,” Abrams said.
“When you look at them together, it’s very difficult to explain why, to a grand jury, in private each and every one of the instances seems so consistent.”
ABC News’ Kevin Dolak, Colleen Curry and Dean Schabner contributed to this report.