The mental health of officials who regularly examine child sexual abuse material: strategies for harm mitigation

Kimberly J. Mitchell, Ateret Gewirtz-Meydan, David Finkelhor, Jennifer E. O’Brien, Lisa M. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: 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. Methods: 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. Results: 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. Conclusions: 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number940
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 13 Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Child sexual abuse material
  • Mental health
  • Police wellness
  • Resiliency

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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