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The Mental Health of Officials Who Regularly Examine Child Sexual Abuse Material: Strategies for Harm Mitigation

NCJ Number
BMC Psychiatry Volume: 23 Issue: 1 Dated: December 2023
Date Published
December 2023

This article describes the research methodology, outcomes, and implications for practice from a study that was undertaken in order to improve practitioners’ understanding of mental health and subjective well-being of criminal investigators and forensic examiners who come into contact with child sexual abuse material through their work duties.


The current study aims to better understand the mental health and subjective well-being of investigators and forensic examiners exposed to child sexual abuse material (CSAM) by examining which components of this work are associated with elevated mental health conditions and decreased well-being, as well as the intra-personal and organizational variables that may mitigate harm and improve well-being. Police investigators, forensic examiners, and others connected with the criminal justice system from across the United States who were exposed to CSAM as part of their professions (N = 500) completed an anonymous online survey. Participants were recruited through connections with the National Criminal Justice Training Center. Duration, frequency, amount, and content of CSAM exposure was not related to poorer mental health with the exception of exposure to violent CSAM which was related to elevated post-traumatic stress symptoms. Several agency-level practices and policies, such as the availability of an Officer Wellness Program and more frequently knowing the final case resolution, were related to better mental health and well-being. Harm mitigation strategies, such as talking to other officers investigating the case and taking breaks from the material being viewed, were also related to better mental health. Findings indicate that police agencies have options for implementing agency-level procedures and practices that have the potential to reduce the negative impact of CSAM investigations. Additionally, many investigators use strategies that are correlated with greater well-being, suggesting opportunities for improving training programs. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: December 1, 2023