Police officers are exposed to a wide variety of stressors—frequently interacting with people at their worst moments and sometimes absorbing the trauma that victims experience themselves. Investigating sexual assaults presents significant challenges given the often high levels of distress experienced by victims, paired with the likelihood that no arrest will be made and the low conviction rates. Little research explores the impact this investigatory work has on the detectives who are assigned to these cases.
In this study, Dr. Morabito, Dr. Pattavina, and Dr. Williams used interviews conducted with 42 sexual assault detectives across six jurisdictions to understand the effects on them of investigating crimes of sexual violence. Specifically, the researchers explored the detectives’ experiences within the context of burnout and secondary traumatic stress.
They found clear incidence of emotional symptoms among sexual assault investigators. During the course of interviews about their decision-making, the detectives—unprompted by the researchers—manifested symptoms of trauma resulting from their assigned caseloads. The researchers detailed a plan for future research to better pinpoint how and when these symptoms arise and interventions that may address their effects.