Child sex investigators at risk of mental harm, report says
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Police who investigate online sex crimes against children are themselves at risk of psychological harm, according to a new report.
University researchers explored moral injury among child exploitation investigators and interviewed police officers from two constabularies during a year-long study.
Researchers from the University of Portsmouth and Solent University found that officers in such roles were continually exposed to "traumatising visual images" for many years.
"This makes them particularly vulnerable to moral injury, PTSD, anxiety, depression and secondary trauma," Professor Peter Lee, from the University of Portsmouth, said.
He added: "Investigating online child sex crime is an extreme example of regularly and repeatedly witnessing acts that transgress the moral frameworks of those involved.
"This study is important to find out more about the causes and consequences of moral injury among these police investigators to enhance support in the future.”
Researchers found that some individuals were distressed by their current role. This was a consequence of repeatedly experiencing intrusive thoughts and images, with overwhelming workloads and timeframes.
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According to the study, managing the psychological distress of viewing indecent images could be improved by enhancing current professional support.
Detective Chief Superintendent Eamonn Bridger, head of crime and safeguarding at Suffolk police, said any developments to improve officer wellbeing were welcomed.
“The welfare of our officers and staff is a priority and we welcome all developments to reduce the psychological impact that working with indecent imagery of children may have on investigators," he said.
"The constabulary follows protocols on officer selection for roles and is steered by guidance from the National Police Chief Council and the National College of Policing with regard to welfare monitoring of all those involved.
"Support is offered by the force in terms of pre-role preparation, ongoing training and six-monthly psychological screening, where investigators and their colleagues are actively encouraged to discuss any wellbeing concerns.
"Regular reviews are carried out and we work in conjunction with occupational health and health and safety to make referrals to ensure that those who are affected by this work receive the appropriate help and support they need."
He added that advancements in technology could help in reducing exposure in the future.
"The importance of using existing and new technology in the detection of indecent images of children plays a vital part in reducing investigator exposure to images, and we hope that future technological advances will be able to assist further in this field," he said.