Harriet Boorhem: Youth Today’s Online Diarist

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I’ve been hesitant to add to the rhetoric about the Penn State sex abuse scandal. However, I would be remiss in my duty as President of an agency whose sole mission is to protect the most vulnerable teens in our community, if I did not express my dismay and sorrow at the events that have recently unfolded. I stand with Penn State leadership in firing Joe Paterno, and my heart goes out to the families of all affected.

I would like to make an important distinction that the press and media continue to get incorrect about Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach accused of horrific sexual abuses against children he met through a charity he founded and took onto the grounds of Penn State’s campus.

There’s NO public documentation that Sandusky has been diagnosed as a pedophile. He is a sex abuser. There is a BIG difference.

Pedophilia is a diagnosable mental illness spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, used by the psychiatric field. A pedophile is usually unable to function well in society, is severely developmentally stunted, and sees himself as approximately the same age as his victims.

This definition does NOT apply to the assistant coach, nor to most sex abusers. Most sex abusers are “solid” citizens, many have families of their own and would be considered upstanding citizens in their communities.

Why do I care about the distinction? Because of the ability to hold the sex abuser accountable for his actions. If he can use the plea of pedophilia, which can show he is mentally ill, he is many times “off the hook” for his actions. Sex abusers are not mentally ill, by all western standards. Although their actions are horrific, they appear to be as normal as anyone else, even under psychiatric scrutiny.

Sex abuse and sexual assault are primarily abuses of power and of opportunity. To those of us who cannot imagine such acts, sex abusers seem sick and demented. What I don’t want, however, is for them to be able to use mental illness as an excuse for their actions. They must be held accountable by the highest letter of the law, without the distraction of a mental illness diagnosis.

It is the least we can do for the victims.

Harriet Boorhem is the president of Promise House, which provides a multitude of services to families and homeless youth in the Dallas area, and Youth Today's first online diarist.