In the Mind of a Pedophile?

As more details come to light in the Penn State case, Jerry Sandusky's denials are revealing.


As Penn State continues to deal with the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky case, another university is also dealing with its own child sexual-abuse scandal. On Sunday, Syracuse University fired assistant baskeball coach Bernie Fine, who faces an investigation for child-molestation claims.

Though the emerging details of the Syracuse case get more bizarre by the day, the Sandusky saga jumped the shark with the incredible interview that he phoned in to Bob Costas on NBC's Rock Center. Sandusky, who at the time was facing 40 criminal counts of sexually abusing eight boys, is now under investigation for two new cases of child abuse, with one of the allegations coming from a member of his own family.

This train wreck of an interview provided the world an X-ray into the mind of a man who, at the very least, used poor judgment by engaging in inappropriate behaviors with boys. By his own admission, his only regret, given the litany of curious and sometimes damning statements during the interview, was of "showering with those kids." 

Despite this "moment of clarity," he often engaged in the defense mechanisms of denial and rationalization: denying doing anything inappropriate with boys and rationalizing that whatever may have appeared as such was simply innocent. These behaviors included engaging in "horseplay" in the shower with at least one of the boys or grabbing the legs of the other boys but with "no sexual feeling." It is quite clear that even if Sandusky thought that these were innocent behaviors on his part, they crossed socially appropriate boundaries and were a violation of personal space, especially between an adult and young boys. 

Sandusky's interview became even more fascinating as it became clear that he was not taking the easy way out by just lying to cover up his inappropriate behavior. Instead, he was actually thinking through some of Costas' questions and self-analyzing at the same time. He seemed to develop some fleeting awareness that there may have been something wrong with the way he expressed his admiration to the boys in his Second Mile Program.

A perfect example of this was when he was asked by Costas whether he was sexually attracted to boys. Sandusky took a pregnant pause and repeated the question twice (a classic sign of rumination and self-questioning). "Am I sexually attracted to underage boys? Sexually attracted?" Then responded, "You know, I enjoy young people. I love to be around them. But, no, I'm not sexually attracted to young boys."

Yikes. If Costas had not hit a psychological nerve there, Sandusky's response should have been a flat-out, unequivocal (no pause or hesitation), "No, I am not attracted to sexually underage boys."

Clinically we know that pedophiles use the defense mechanisms of denial and rationalization to justify their sexual assaults on children and, quite frankly, to be able to live with themselves, because on some level they do feel anxiety or guilt after they have acted out and have a chance to think about what they have done. Therefore, we shouldn't be so shocked and fascinated by this interview after all.

If Sandusky is guilty of these heinous accusations, then certainly he was simply exhibiting the thinking patterns of a pedophile with his answers. If he is not guilty of the charges, he will be engaging in some serious soul-searching about how he behaved with boys from his Second Mile Program, especially those he is accused of abusing sexually.  

Jeffrey Gardere, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who regularly appears on television programs, including The Maury Povich Show and Nancy Grace. He is on the staff of Harlem Dowling-West Side Center in New York City and is an adjunct clinical professor at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harlem Village, N.Y.