Today,Tues 21 October, Oscar Pistorius received a five year jail sentence for the culpable homicide of his late girlfriend, model and law graduate, Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius was controversially acquitted of Steenkamp’s murder on 14 February 2014 at his Pretoria, SA, home. He was convicted of her “culpable homicide.”
Oscar’s trial has attracted international coverage and speculation about what may have driven Pistorius’ actions on the night of Reeva’s death. He claims to have fired at Reeva through a locked toilet door having mistakenly assumed she was an intruder.
Family Arrested blog readers who have been following the trial and who are familiar with the traits of the “Cluster B” personality disorders may be interested in the conclusions of the psychiatric report on Pistorius’ mental health and personality, which was conducted by Dr. Jonathan Scholz.
Judge Thokozile Masipe suspended the Pistorius trial for four weeks back in May 2014, to have Pistorius sent for extensive psychiatric evaluation in Pretoria’s Weskoppies hospital. Dr. Scholz was asked to determine if Pistorius could be held liable for causing Reeva’s death, and whether some mental impairment had influenced his actions that night.
Oscar’s defence team had told the court that he suffered from a Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Pistorius’ behaviour in court – he repeatedly sobbed in an uncontrolled manner and frequently appeared to be about to vomit – raised questions about his fitness to stand trial.
The Scholz report concluded that the athelete did not show signs of either borderline or anti-social/psychopathic personality disorder. It states that he showed symptoms of depression and stress, but that his levels of anxiety were in the normal range. Therefore the defence’s claim of G.A.D. was not supported by Dr. Scholz.
The report can be read here:
It makes for interesting reading, and, I think, raises a number of questions as to the accuracy of its findings. The report appears to have been based largely, or entirely, upon interviews with, and examinations of, Pistorius himself. Oscar has been found to be rational, and he clearly had a vested interest in presenting himself to the team at Weskoppies hospital in a favorable manner.
Dr. Scholz’s report advised Judge Masipe that, ‘’no evidence could be found to indicate that Mr Pistorius has a history of abnormal aggression or explosive violence..He does not display the personality characteristics of Narcissism and / or Psychopathy that are mostly associated with men in abusive relationships. Those who know him describe him as gentle, respectful and conflict avoidant…His style of conflict resolution is to talk through the situation or remove himself from the situation.’’
Yet these conclusions appear to be contradicted by documented reports of Pistorius’s unstable, intense moods, impulsivity, aggression, need for control in intimate relationships, and his fixation on guns, (which was unusual, even within a society as riven with violent crime as South Africa). These unfavorable aspects to Pistorius appear to suggest the possibility that the athlete may, in fact, have pronounced borderline traits and perhaps, psychopathic traits.
There is no mention in Dr. Scholz’s report of the association between borderline personality traits and abusive males. But , the link between BPD and domestic / intimate partner violence is well-documented in peer-reviewed literature (e.g. Ross and Babcock, 2009; Hines, 2008; Dutton and Tweed 1998; Porcerelli et al , 2004; Tong, 2004). It is possible that Dr. Scholz did not reference BPD here, despite Pistorius’ intense, highly emotionally unstable behaviours in court , as he may have consider these to be signs of PTSD.
Dr. Scholz appeared to be relying exclusively upon Pistorius’s self-reporting , and the positive reports of his close family and supporters , for evidence of his personality traits . His ex partners do not appear to have been consulted.
This is problematic as borderline and psychopathic personalities are able to lie , even under stress, convincingly, in attempts to manipulate reality for their own gain. Both personality types are able to use the ‘pity play’ , and Pistorius’ self-presentation as a tormented, pitiful figure in court appeared strangely theatrical and manipulative to many, rather than as genuine psychological distress at the loss of his girlfriend and the pain he had caused her family.
A reminder of the traits of borderline personality:
-dramatic mood swings
-sudden, intense bouts of intense anger and aggression
-unstable intimate partnerships involving ‘splitting’ ( a marked tendency to perceive others in unrealistic and extreme terms, either ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’ with rapid shifting between these two extremes possible)
-persistent feelings of emptiness
-unstable / confused self-image
-harmful patterns of impulsivity
-suicidal threats and / or attempts
-when mentally distressed, paranoia, dissociation and brief episodes of psychosis are all possible
Dr. Scholz’s reported that Oscar Pistorius ‘’ does not display the personality characteristics …that are mostly associated with men in abusive relationships. Those who know him describe him as gentle, respectful and conflict avoidant’’. This view is not shared by his ex-partner Samantha Taylor and her mother Trish, who have spoken publically of Pistorius as showing traits of emotional instability and given to bouts of rage :
In an interview with CBS correspondent Debora Patta this year, Taylor said Pistorius was “very controlling.” “He always wanted to know where I was and who I was with,” Samantha Taylor told Patta. “If he didn’t believe me, he would phone my family.”
As is typical for abusive men, Pistorius was “very charming and respectful” when the two started dating, according to Taylor. But after about three months, she said he became ‘’agitated’’ and was prone to sudden rages.
When apart from him, he insisted that Samantha send him photos of herself to show him how she was dressed and who she was sitting next to, as he required proof that she was not with other men, or partying. Taylor’s mother, Trish Taylor, said Pistorius’ behaviour towards her daughter were ‘’manipulative’’ and “very abusive” .
In September, Samantha Taylor gave another interview to the British Daily Mirror:
Pistorius threatened not to run at in the 2012 London Olympics unless Taylor flew from South Africa to care for him, despite the fact that the couple had split up, due to Pistorius’ cheating and his controlling and aggressive behaviors:
‘’In a flurry of calls, emails and texts from London – sometimes 30 a day – he begged Samantha Taylor, 20, to join him.’’ ‘’He fumed, pleaded and sobbed down the phone to her at her home in South Africa.’’ Samantha said: “He was an emotional rollercoaster. He told me in an email if I don’t come over then he doesn’t want to participate in the Olympics.’’
“He often cried just before a race while on the phone to me, and when he got up to get awards I could see he was sad. He also put his glasses on when he was on TV because he cried a lot.”
Sansone and Sansone in their Borderline Personality and Externalized Aggression ( Innovative Clinical Neuroscience 2012; 9.3)describe the following ways in which a borderline personality may externalize their aggression:
-Intimate partner violence (both men and women)
-Non intimate assault (i.e., assault of individuals known to the perpetrator)
-Aggressive criminal behaviors (e.g.property damage, disorderly conduct, public drunkenness/intoxication)
-Murder (e.g., familicide, serial killing)
In 2009, Pistorius spent a night in the police cells of the Boschkop police station after a student, Cassidy Taylor-Memmory, accused him of assaulting her during a party at his home. Pistorius initially faced a charge of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm that was subsequently downgraded to common assault. Pistorius settled the case out of court after mounting a claim for loss of earnings against Taylor-Memmory and damages for libel.
In 2012, Pistorius traded threats of violence in front of witnesses with TV producer,Quinton van der Burgh in a VIP room at the Kyalami racetrack. The animosity between the two men escalated, with Van der Burgh receiving numerous texts from Pistorius, including a threat to ‘’break his legs’’. Van der Burgh told the SA media that he was “scared for his life”.
Former SA football player Marc Batchelor, who socialised with Pistorius, described him to the media as someone who “had a trip switch” and was quick to get angry and fight.
Pistorius applied for six gun weeks before killing Reeva with a licensed 9mm pistol. Video evidence emerged in the trial of Pistorius shooting repeatedly at a watermelon with the 9mm pistol and saying: “It’s a lot softer than brain, but **** it’s like a zombie stopper”.
Sean Rens, manager of manager of the International Firearm Training Academy near Johannesburg, told the court the double-amputee had “a great love and enthusiasm” for guns.
Michael Sokolove, a sports writer for the New York Times , visited Pistorius in South Africa in 2011. “Oscar was more than a little crazy’’ he said. “We were driving 150 miles an hour… We were on some state’s turnpike, and he’s weaving in between cars and tailgating them. And just really insane driving. He saw it as sport.’’
In July 2014, whilst bailed to reside with his uncle during his murder trial proceedings, Pistorius had an altercation with businessman Jared Mortimer in the VIP section of a nightclub in Johannesburg. Mortimer said Oscar was intoxicated and started to poke him in the chest. Bouncers removed Pistorius after he “had a confrontation with another man”, Mr Mortimer was quoted as saying in SA’s The Star.
Hours after the incident, the Olympic sprinter , using Twitter for the first time since killing Reeva, tweeted a bible verse, a collection of pictures of his charity work and a quote from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
Here is a link to a piece in South Africa’s The Times, in which clinical psychologist Leonard Carr assesses the Whatsapp messages between Reeva and Pistorius which were entered as evidence during the trial; Carr sees signs of their relationship as abusive, with Pistorius displaying narcissistic, controlling, manipulative and entitled attitudes:
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel presented evidence of these negative aspects to Pistorius’ personality to the court, and this was presumably taken into account when Judge Masipe determines the five-year sentence for his culpable homicide conviction.
If Pistorius is personality disordered, rehabilitation attempts will not alter his negative personality traits, and further impulsive, aggressive or violent acts by him are highly likely.