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Interpersonal violence, in its many forms, is a human rights violation and you do not have to look far to find governments and organisations who are trying to combat it. For example, the Home Office Spending Priorities (2021) include tackling a range of violent crime, such as rape and sexual offences, domestic violence, and murder, and the Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy was published by the government in July 2021 and updated in November 2021. More recently, the Telegraph reported on the efforts of organisations trying to document and preserve evidence of the atrocities being committed in Ukraine.

People employed within the criminal justice system or working in the third sector who investigate such crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice are confronted not only by the effects that these crimes have on the lives of individuals, but with the details of the crimes themselves. The negative impact that this exposure can have is well documented for staff in front-line roles but research at the University of Birmingham highlights that there is an additional group of professionals working in intelligence, research and analytical roles, whose work is integral to protecting society and achieving justice, whose wellbeing is also suffering.

 

From their findings to date, it is evident that analysts and secondary investigators in criminal justice settings are struggling in a number of ways due to the high dosage of distressing material to which they are exposed. It is negatively impacting how they think and feel about the world, how they perceive situations they encounter, and their behaviour.

Although these professionals are exposed frequently and in great depth to distressing material, they are rarely the subject of academic research. Dr Fazeelat Duran and Professor Jessica Woodhams are addressing this by conducting surveys and interviews with staff employed in these roles. Thus far, they have collected data from participants in five countries including survey data from approximately 100 criminal justice workers and they have interviewed 40 criminal justice workers from around the world. In addition, they are conducting the first longitudinal study of these professionals which includes a neuroimaging element.

From their findings to date, it is evident that analysts and secondary investigators in criminal justice settings are struggling in a number of ways due to the high dosage of distressing material to which they are exposed. It is negatively impacting how they think and feel about the world, how they perceive situations they encounter, and their behaviour. They are reporting PTSD-type symptomology of hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts, excessive precautionary behaviour and avoidance behaviours. In addition, they report being physically and mentally exhausted due to high workloads where they have no time to make use of wellbeing services. In addition to the toll this exposure is taking on their mental health, this group of professionals feel invisible to, and unappreciated by, policy-makers.

There are clearly two immediate issues to address here – the visibility of their work and giving them a voice, as well as identifying effective means of protecting and repairing their mental health. The first step is to recognise the problem and start a conversation about tackling it. To assist with this, Dr Duran and Professor Woodhams have co-produced with staff in these roles two videos thereby giving them a voice.

A man watching a screen in a CCTV monitoring room
Impact of Traumatic Material
A friendly-looking woman placing a reassuring hand on a man's arm
How we can support to protect the protectors

Their aim is to raise awareness of the impact of this work with collaborators, policymakers, and the public, and to provide support to other professionals experiencing difficulties working with traumatic material internationally, giving them practical advice regarding successful coping. A toolkit with practical recommendations for organisations to implement is also being co-produced. These include the requirement of sufficient breaks from the material, the importance of allowing time and space for colleagues to congregate to provide one another with support, safeguards for home-working and, when needed, regular access to psychological support from a suitably trained professional.

Peter Thorp, Head of PVP Performance and Governance, Crime Services, South Yorkshire Police, said: "Often police staff members can feel forgotten and undervalued as much of their work goes unseen in the background. Having the support of academic research such as this is vital to help me fully understand the impact certain roles can have on the individual and ensure that we can implement the best possible support measures and activities so the staff involved don’t suffer as a consequence of the difficult, yet incredibly important work they do to safeguard and protect the public.”