Methods: Anonymous surveys were completed by police investigators and forensic examiners across the United States. Participants were recruited through a variety of means connected with the National Criminal Justice Training Center. The current sample consists of a sub-group of 258 investigators with CSAM exposure who completed a survey about their experiences involving one particularly “stressful or challenging” case. Likert scales and open-ended questions were provided. Qualitative responses were double coded using a grounded theory approach.
Results: Findings highlight dialectics between emotional versus cognitive responses, and victim versus system focus. Specifically, results indicate that investigators and examiners experience high levels of distress associated with their exposure to CSAM cases. The degree of distress was negatively related to the cognitive system-focused cognitions. Participants who believed they were able to handle their role in the investigation, viewed the case as an opportunity to test their abilities, felt it was an opportunity to become stronger professional, and reported that an arrest had been made experienced fewer negative impacts on psychological well-being. However, participants who focused on victim’s suffering, thought of their own children/families, or felt an emotional connection to the victim (e.g., knew the victim outside of the investigation) felt greater distress. Negative coping was also explored and related to lower levels of well-being, with some participants noting overwhelm in their daily lives that they attributed to their role as an investigator or interviewer, difficulty deriving joy with friends and/or family, and general distrust of others. Participants noted less distress in departments where wellness was prioritized, such as those with Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings indicate interventions that target how investigators and forensic interviewers working on CSAM cases frame their role may impact their psychological well-being and ability to continue to work on these distressing cases. In addition, findings highlight the differential emphasis placed on arrest within law enforcement, which may contribute to retrospective assessments of distress. Implications, including changing emphasis to a victim-centered rather than punitive approach, will be discussed.