A prospective longitudinal study of the impact of exposure to traumatic material on wellbeing and its causal mechanisms in "back office" police and law enforcement staff

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Birmingham

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

September 2020

Research Context

​It is well-recognised that first responders can suffer from exposure to traumatic material (TM) and, indeed, this is the focus of other research groups (e.g., Donders Institute and Radboud University Nijmegen, Oscar Kilo & the Police Dependant Trust) and research papers (e.g., Craun et al., 2014; Wortley et al., 2014). However, numerous professionals in analytical and secondary investigative roles (e.g., crime and intelligence analysts, digital forensics analysts, covert human intelligence staff, translators and researchers) are also exposed to TM. Although these professionals may be exposed in greater depth and frequency to TM than some front-line staff, there is a very limited understanding of the causal mechanisms through which exposure to TM can negatively impact wellbeing and conversely what the mechanisms are for resilience. These need to be properly understood to intervene effectively. Our study is investigating several potential mechanisms. Our long-term objectives are to not only advance our understanding of the TM that back-office staff are exposed to and how they cope with this, but through the triangulation of different research methods and through a prospective, longitudinal design we will answer fundamental questions about how exposure to traumatic material can have its deleterious effects and why some individuals show greater resilience than others.

Research Methodology

The focus of this research will be on two inter-related strands, namely a longitudinal and a cross-sectional study:


1. Prospective longitudinal study
Forty analysts will be the participants in a unique prospective, longitudinal study. Twenty of these analysts are exposed on a daily basis, in detail, to material depicting sexual violence and murder. These are referred to as the TM-exposed group and are being recruited from the National Crime Agency. The remaining twenty analysts represent a comparison group and work in a policing environment but not on violent or sexually-violent material (e.g., non-violent crime or strategic analysts).

Both TM-exposed and control groups will be invited to take part in three components that make up the longitudinal study: a questionnaire battery, an interview, and behavioural tasks/experiments at the University of Birmingham. Data will be collected via questionnaire/interview at baseline and at 3 other timepoints (6, 12, 18 months).

2. Cross-sectional mapping of back-office staff
The cross-sectional element is an international survey of approximately 200 participants, all of whom are in a back-office role in the Police, law enforcement or in a justice setting (e.g., the International Criminal Courts). They will be in the following roles: intelligence analysts, sexual violence crime analysts, behavioural investigative advisors, digital forensics analysts, and covert human intelligence staff with regular (if not daily) and in-depth exposure to TM.

Each participant will complete (1) a battery of psychometric tests to measure different aspects of psychological distress or wellbeing (secondary traumatic stress, compassion satisfaction, burnout and compassion fatigue, depression, anxiety, sleep problems etc.) using the on-line survey, and (2) a 45-minute, one-to-one semi-structured interview with Dr Duran including questions regarding the nature of the participant’s work, probing for relevant mechanisms that might affect the impact of TM on the individual (e.g., use of imagery while working), the impact of the work on them and how they and their employer manage its impact (e.g., memory suppression, emotional distancing, peer support), if at all.

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

September 2022
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