Study examines effects of internet child exploitation

The effects of internet child exploitation on investigators, is the focus of a new Griffith University Australian Research Council Linkage grant.

The world-first study will examine the psychological, behavioural, social and health-related impacts on internet child exploitation investigators in all nine Australian policing jurisdictions (AFP, QLD, ACT, NSW, NT, SA, TAS, Vic & WA).

Each jurisdiction has two designations of personnel in its internet child exploitation unit — online investigators who pose as children in chat rooms and engage in correspondence with online predators, infiltrate paedophile newsgroups that trade abuse images and may even broadcast real-time abuse of children; and those who search the internet for illegal child exploitation material.

Computer examiners are primarily concerned with collecting evidence of child exploitation material from the hard drives of seized computers.

Chief investigator Professor Richard Wortley said while all aspects of police work could be stressful, direct exposure to graphic sexual content posed a unique and significant health risk.

“Experimental studies have found exposure to pornography can increase aggression, increase the acceptance of rape myths and interfere with healthy intimate and social relationships,” he said.

“But there is a lack of research that specifically examines occupational health impacts on ICE investigators and this gap seriously impedes the capacity of police organisations to discharge a duty of care over their personnel.

“These impacts may not just have harmful personal consequences for individual investigators, but may also have serious productivity implications for police forces which impede them from preventing ICE.”

The three-year project will develop protocols for the selection, training, management and reintegration of ICE investigators.

It aims to enhance job satisfaction and reduced burnout of workers, improve productivity and savings in health costs and compensation claims, reduce the prevalence of ICE and reduce the trauma of abused victims.