This fourth episode in the “Workforce Resiliency” mini-season of the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ’s) Just Science podcast series is an interview with Donia Stack, the Director of the Research, Technology, and Evaluation Program in RTI’s Center for Forensic Sciences, who discusses the literature gaps in research on resiliency and vicarious trauma.
An introduction to the interview notes that discussions on how post-traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and burnout can affect first responders and justice practitioners have increased over the years; however, research gaps on these issues remain on the level of stress experienced by forensic scientists. In her interview, Donia Stack discusses the literature on stress, her upcoming doctoral research, and strategies to bolster workforce resiliency for forensic scientists. In the research on vicarious trauma experienced in various professional groups, the focus has been on professions that regularly have direct contact with and provide services for people who have been victimized and/or experienced various types of physical and/or emotional harm. Such research has rarely focused on vicarious trauma experienced by forensic scientists, because they are viewed as not having direct personal contact or interaction with crime victims; however, in the research that has examined this issue, Donia Slack notes research in which digital forensic evidence technicians with no direct victim contact were compared with digital evidence technicians who also served as investigators interacting with victims or their families. The research found that both types of forensic investigators scored high on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but investigators with direct victim contact scored higher. The interview notes, however, that burnout or the experience of work-related stress occurs with forensic scientists under the pressure of analyzing multiple cases of victimization. This requires the attention of forensic lab managers.