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    Professional mental health support

    We give our staff the support they need to do their job well 

    Our analysts have one of the toughest jobs in the world. Every day, staff in our Hotline see distressing images and videos of children being sexually abused, raped and tortured.

    Ongoing exposure to this type of imagery can take a toll on an analyst’s wellbeing. However, staff at the IWF consistently point to the strong welfare system in place that helps them to cope with the nature of their work.

    It starts with the recruitment process

    The IWF’s rigorous support system begins as soon as candidates are selected for interview and continues throughout their time at the charity. Recruitment and training are carefully managed to guide potential and new analysts through the process of viewing graphic and upsetting images.

    This strong start reinforces a wider organisational strategy ensuring that there is a support network every step of the way to help them maintain good mental wellbeing.

    Our analysts come from all walks of life, ages and experiences, yet they all speak of a sense of shared camaraderie and understanding in the Hotline. They know that they will always be able to speak to a colleague or line manager about their work and it is encouraged that staff recognise and voice that they might not be able to cope as well as they’d like with something they have viewed.

    Regular breaks, and no overtime

    It is vital to our analysts’ wellbeing that they can ‘close the door’ on what they have seen during the day and leave work behind when they go home. For this reason, staff in the Hotline work a shortened day to keep the amount of time viewing images to a minimum. Regular breaks are mandatory and there is no overtime, ever.

    During lunch and time away from their screens, analysts are encouraged to relax and eat in a bright and cheerful communal space or if they’re feeling energetic, play a game of table tennis. There are also jigsaws, colouring books, building sets and juggling balls available for other mindful distractions.

    Further support is provided by an in-house welfare working group that meets regularly to discuss aspects of staff welfare across the organisation and provides team-building sessions to maintain morale.

    Mandatory counselling, every month, without fail

    On occasion however, viewing a particular image or video can have an emotional effect on an analyst and stay with them beyond their working day. This is why all employees who view criminal images have in-person, mandated monthly counselling sessions with a licensed therapist.

    These sessions gently explore how the analyst is dealing with their exposure to child sexual abuse material and whether it may be affecting their home life. Sometimes an analyst will describe viewing an image that is ‘triggering’ and which they’re finding difficult to stop thinking about. It could be something as innocuous as a recognisable toy or piece of clothing or something more upsetting that can be heard on the audio track of a sexual abuse video.

    In these cases, the therapist can work with the analyst to try and dispel the impact that the image has; to take away its power to shock. These include techniques such as imagining the image painted on a wall and then manipulating it. The analyst is encouraged to paint over the image or break down the wall in their minds, mentally blocking or throwing it away.

    An annual visit to “The Prof”

    The monthly sessions are backed up by an annual assessment with a clinical psychologist, affectionately called ‘The Prof’. His work with the IWF differs from his usual sessions in that instead of helping people to deal with the aftermath of a crisis or trauma, it is specifically designed to prevent crisis and trauma from occurring.

    He says that to do their jobs effectively, analysts need to become desensitised to some degree. While the content they view remains shocking, because of the analyst’s training and experience the images no longer have the same sort of ability to shock that they might have had for someone who was ill prepared to see them.

    Analysts are taught to try not to ‘fill in the gaps’ when viewing images of children being hurt and exploited, which means to avoid thinking about what might have happened to a child and whether they are still at risk. Though it is a natural thing to wonder about, our analysts learn to distance themselves from the emotional aspect so they can focus on the job at hand.

    The IWF mission as motivation

    Analysts know that the vital data collected through their assessment of child sexual abuse images is used by law enforcement and the tech industry around the world to track down child abusers and block further distribution of abuse material. This gives our Hotline staff great satisfaction knowing that they have made a difference to help children.

    As one analyst says: “I’m glad we do see what we do if it protects children.”