Work Exposure

“Work Exposure to Child Pornography in ICAC Task Forces and Affiliates”

Janis Wolak and Kimberly J. Mitchell

Extended Summary

This article reviews results from a survey conducted in 2008 by the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. The survey was created in response to the growing amount of trauma experienced by law enforcement personnel exposed to child pornography during case investigations. It intended to assess the extent of exposure to child pornography, determine the most problematic aspects of the job, investigate the process of choosing and preparing personnel to handle such tasks, monitor the presence of support for case workers, and oversee the agencies’ efforts to cover these issues. The results of this survey indicate that ICAC Task Forces are weary of the potential psychological impacts from exposure to child pornography; 57% of Task Forces and 16% of those affiliated with the work indicated “very concerned” in response to a question regarding worry levels (p. 3). Additionally, it was found that a mere 21% of agencies provided proper preparation for their first exposure to child pornography (p. 5). Combined, these two circumstances underscore the importance of patience, understanding, and preparation of those handling cases of child pornography. While the survey answers reported that 57% of Task Forces did not encounter any issues surrounding exposure to child pornography it is highly possible that an issue of underreporting problems with personnel exists (p. 4).

In light of these concerns, the article continues to discuss strategies for lessening traumatic impact. For instance: awareness of potential personal struggles; open discussion regarding personal sexual difficulties resulting from child pornography exposure; the ability to opt-out of cases they deem too stressful and, in particular, preventing isolation of personnel in small agencies who may be under social pressure not to seek support. The survey highlights several progressive methods of support that aim to lessen traumatic impact as well. Information sessions about the possibility of experiencing trauma raised awareness for from 45% to 65% in individuals who had been somewhat or very concerned about trauma (p. 4). Some agencies have adopted the use of “exit tickets,” which permit individuals to transfer assignments without being pressed for a reason why. This strategy allows for flexibility and honest self-evaluation of needs; a healthy method of trauma prevention. Shockingly, the survey also found that only 8% of agencies asked personnel about any personal history of child sexual abuse, a largely overlooked issue that could contribute to very intense traumatic experiences.

It is important that agencies with ICAC Task Forces look to less obvious roots that traumatic experiences may stem from in order to properly care for officers. Increasing awareness and discouraging silence are paramount to lessening the traumatic impact of child pornography on investigators.