74 Fed. Probation 36 (2010)
Traumatized by Association: The Risk of Working Sex Crimes

handle is hein.journals/fedpro74 and id is 94 raw text is: Traumatized by Association:
The Risk of Working Sex Crimes
Shiloh A. Catanese, PsyD.
Clinical Coordinator, Sharper Future

PROFESSIONALS WORKING WITH the
victims or offenders of crimes that result in
trauma have the potential to be deeply affected
by the stories and the images they are exposed
to during their work. Vicarious, or second-
ary trauma occurs in someone who is not the
primary person experiencing the trauma. A
trauma is described as an experienced or wit-
nessed event that involves actual or threatened
death or serious injury. This event causes the
person to respond with intense fear, helpless-
ness, or horror. Vicarious trauma occurs when
a secondary person is exposed to the original
victim or offender, likely in the course of
their profession. In this case the person now
referred to as the vicarious trauma victim
can experience symptoms and feelings of
trauma just by being exposed to the victim's
pain or the offender's history of offending. By
familiarizing themselves with the situations
that cause vicarious trauma and the symp-
toms that may occur, professionals regularly
exposed to victims or offenders of crimes may
prevent vicarious trauma development.
The Who
As we know, there are many people involved
in the investigation, prosecution, and reha-
bilitation of crimes with vulnerable victims,
specifically sexual offenses. There are first
responders, such as police officers, fire fight-
ers, and emergency medical personnel, who
encounter the victim when the crime is still
fresh. They are on the scene to comfort the
child who is developing a swollen black eye
or the woman who is unable to describe her
attacker because she is ashamed and sobbing.
Victim advocates and forensic nurses are
called out of bed in the middle of the night

to go over the crime in detail with the victim
and witness the physical damage inflicted.
Investigators and forensic technicians collect
the hundreds of images of child pornography
from suspects' computers and book the evi-
dence in necessary detail. Judges and attorneys
who specialize in sexual assault cases also go
over the narratives and images to make the
best decision possible during the adjudication
process. After the offender is convicted and
pays his debt to society, he or she is released
back into the community, where a supervi-
sion officer monitors the offender's behavior.
This officer often specializes in sex offender
supervision and is tasked with reading all of
the accounts of the sex offense. Ideally, the
offender is referred to sex offender specific
treatment and a mental health professional
spends one to four hours per week with
the offender digging deeper into the sexual
offense as well as past offenses and traumas.
At a minimum, six people are professionally
exposed to one sexual offender's crime. This
example does not include dispatchers, polyg-
raphers, halfway house managers, professional
trainees, jury members, social workers, or
support staff of the above-listed players.
Professionals who work with sex offenders
or victims begin their careers with their own
sets of issues, personalities, and past experi-
ences. As all humans do, they have their own
baseline of emotional stability. Some may be
able to handle stress abnormally well and oth-
ers may cry over spilled milk. If a person has
been the primary victim of a trauma in his
or her past, symptoms may resurface when
faced with an offender or victim's traumatic
situation. Often we do not recognize that we
have experienced a trauma in our lives and it

therefore goes unresolved. Similar situations
or feelings of vulnerability may trigger trau-
matic symptoms; however, the past traumas
do not have to be similar in nature to evoke
similar emotions. For example, a man who
experienced abuse as a child and then served
in a combat zone in war can start experienc-
ing traumatic symptoms by witnessing a car
accident years later. If none of his previous
traumas were resolved, they may have been
bubbling below the surface, waiting for one
more traumatic event to occur before the
symptoms exploded. We know that with pri-
mary trauma, such as the above-mentioned
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) exam-
ple, multiple traumas can build up and surface
at any time.
Resilience is an important factor in how a
person will handle the exposure to a traumatic
event. It is an innate buffer that allows people
to compartmentalize work from the rest of life
and, more specifically, the unpleasant situa-
tions of work from the rewarding experiences.
People who are particularly resilient have
the ability to emotionally detach for a short
amount of time while they perform their job
duties. However, at some point they need
to cope with the resulting negative feelings
in a healthy manner. For example, a federal
agent and former local police officer reported
several primary and vicarious traumatic expe-
riences (including the death of a partner)
in which he was able to perform his duties
correctly, go home after his shift, and sleep
a full eight hours. Occasionally, he reported
taking a few days off to process the events, but
he always felt 100 percent when he returned
to work. He never felt the need to cope with
alcohol or risky behavior (as many people do)

36 FEDERAL PROBATION

Volume 74 Number 2

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