Understanding and supporting law enforcement professionals working with distressing material: Findings from a qualitative study

Denk-Florea, Cristina-Bianca; Gancz, Benjamin; Gomoiu, Amalia; Ingram, Martin; Moreton, Reuben and Pollick, Frank (2020). Understanding and supporting law enforcement professionals working with distressing material: Findings from a qualitative study. PLOS ONE, 15(11) e0242808.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0242808

Abstract

This study aimed to extend previous research on the experiences and factors that impact law enforcement personnel when working with distressing materials such as child sexual abuse content. A sample of 22 law enforcement personnel working within one law enforcement organisation in England, United Kingdom participated in anonymous semi-structured interviews. Results were explored thematically and organised in the following headings: “Responses to the material”, “Impact of working with distressing evidence”, “Personal coping strategies” and “Risks and mitigating factors”. Law enforcement professionals experienced heightened affective responses to personally relevant material, depictions of violence, victims’ displays of emotions, norm violations and to various mediums. These responses dampened over time due to desensitisation. The stress experienced from exposure to the material sometimes led to psychological symptoms associated with Secondary Traumatic Stress. Job satisfaction, self-care activities, the coping strategies used when viewing evidence, detachment from work outside working hours, social support and reducing exposure to the material were found to mediate law enforcement professionals’ resilience. Exposure to distressing material and the risks associated with this exposure were also influenced by specific organisational procedures implemented as a function of the funding available and workload. Recommendations for individual and organisational practices to foster resilience emerged from this research. These recommendations are relevant to all organisations where employees are required to view distressing content.

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