“Identifying and Managing Stress in Child Pornography and Child Exploitation”
The dawn of the Internet era brought with it a growing global network of predators. Initial investigators working to bring justice to child Internet crime victims and prevent future crimes did so in a shrouded, misunderstood world. Shame and stigma associated with viewing the graphic images these Internet crimes often produced, coupled with the isolating nature of computer work, burdened officers and their families in psychological, emotional, and physical ways. Poor organization and continual technological development demanded more awareness of the plight these officers faced, some of whom may not have voluntarily engaged in this type of work.
As Internet exploitation has increased over time, healing for the mental trauma this type of work can inflict on child pornography investigators has become more crucial. According to this article, trauma risk level corresponds to the frequency of exposure to explicit material, the duration of exposure, the type and intensity of the material, the perceived control over when material is viewed, and the coping mechanisms with which investigators are equipped. Investigators are considered to be at a higher risk for trauma when they work for small agencies where acceptance of their work is low; they feel pressured not to protect themselves by speaking out when they need help confronting their feelings toward the material; and when given a heavy work load with little option or autonomy in deciding their case assignment. In addition to the social pressures inherent to the work, investigative officers often feel immense moral obligation to be the sole advocate for exploited children, leading to a high need for case resolution. In the event that the individual fails to achieve the level of justice or life-saving work they strive for, investigators can be prone to misplaced guilt and frustration with themselves.
Currently, the mental health community is working with law enforcement agencies to introduce safeguards for those investigating Internet crimes against children. These safeguards include: ensuring such work is voluntary; giving officers the ability to opt out of their placement without penalty; and a strong support system that includes loved ones and professionals who understand the nature of the work. It is essential to create a safety net of personal safeguards for investigators that can be called upon during times of heightened risk for trauma, such as during particularly heavy caseloads or extensive time spent viewing troubling materials. These measures can protect personal autonomy of the investigator, which is crucial to maintaining their well-being and sense of self-care.