‘It’s why you get up in the morning’. A Straussian grounded theory study of coping in police officers who investigate rape and child abuse

Foley, Jim; Hassett, Alex and Williams, Emma (2024). ‘It’s why you get up in the morning’. A Straussian grounded theory study of coping in police officers who investigate rape and child abuse. The Police Journal: Theory, Practice and Principles (Early access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0032258x241228491

Abstract

Policing by its very nature has been widely recognised as being inherently stressful with little that can be done to prevent police officers’ exposure to both primary and secondary trauma. Officers involved in the investigation of child abuse and sexual offences have been further recognised as working in some of the most stressful and demanding roles in policing. However, there has been little research within this high-risk group of officers which seeks to understand how they cope with both the organisational and occupational stressors they are exposed to, as well as which strategies help them to ‘ get up in the morning’. Data were collected through twenty-three (23) semi-structured interviews, with Straussian Grounded Theory used as a framework to develop a model of coping. This study highlighted that although some officers were affected by the traumatic nature of their work, there were other risk factors present which appear to have impacted on them more significantly including ‘burnout’, ’compassion fatigue’ and ‘moral injury’. Protective factors were identified as ‘being in control’, ‘organisational, social and peer support’ as well as ‘having a purpose’ all of which impacted on an officer’s ability to cope with the work they do. The present findings extend our knowledge of key concepts relating to police officer coping which may help officers working in these high-risk roles to cope with challenges they face daily. Recommendations for further research on how to support this group of officers, as well as implications for practice are discussed.

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