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Trauma Behind the Keyboard: Exploring Disparities in Child Sexual Abuse Materials Exposure and Mental Health Factors Among Investigators and Forensic Examiners - A Network Analysis

NCJ Number
Child Abuse and Neglect Volume: 152 Dated: June 2024 Pages: 106757
Date Published
June 2024

The study reported here provides a comprehensive exploration of the relationship between burnout and other mental health issues, and the psychological challenges faced by law enforcement investigators and forensic examiners who investigate cases of child sexual abuse material.


Despite acknowledging the detrimental impact of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) exposure on the mental and physical well-being of investigators and forensic examiners, there is a need for comprehensive exploration into the complex relationship between CSAM exposure, its various dimensions, mental health (i.e., anxiety, depression, and PTSD), and burnout, as well as the presence of positive attitudes towards the job. This project’s objective was to understand how CSAM exposure, mental health and burnout interconnect and cluster within distinct networks of police investigators and forensic examiners. Participants included police investigators and forensic examiners from across the United States who were exposed to CSAM as part of their professions (N = 470). Participants, recruited through connections with the National Criminal Justice Training Center, completed an anonymous online survey. The network analysis revealed differences in centrality between investigators and forensic examiners, particularly in their associations with exposure factors and mental health variables. Edges invariance tests showed differences in the strength of these associations, with some factors being more strongly linked to PTSD avoidance symptoms among investigators and others among forensic examiners. Stability analyses suggested potentially greater heterogeneity among investigators, while both groups displayed high stability in other centrality indices. This study contributes to our comprehension of the distinct experiences and challenges faced by CSAM investigators and forensic examiners, and specifically the nuanced disparities between CSAM investigators and forensic examiners in terms of their exposure to CSAM content and the associated mental health factors. These insights highlight the imperative need for tailored support mechanisms and interventions that can effectively address the unique challenges encountered by individuals working tirelessly in this critical field. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: June 1, 2024