Responding to a Child Predator’s Suicide
When officers investigating cases that expose them to child pornography and child exploitation materials experience the suicide of a subject, what “typical” or “normal” responses might they have? In fact, investigators have a wide range of reactions in these instances.
The FBI’s Undercover Safeguard Unit (USU) has found that the more face-to-face contact officers had with the subject, the more potential conflict may characterize their response to the suicide. USU personnel currently are researching this trend.
Investigators may fall back on their sense of just anger because of the egregious nature of child predatory acts. These officers may hear about a subject suicide and consider it a tangible end to an overwhelmingly rampant and potentially vicious crime.
Considering the wide range of possible reactions, how might a supervisor or team member respond to a group of investigators? USU personnel offer some constructive steps worthy of consideration.
- Before a subject suicide, educate and talk to your team members about the diversity of reactions they may encounter. During, perhaps, a staff meeting, ask them how they might expect to react or how they have responded in the past. Emphasize that it is normal for people to not know how to react in unusual circumstances—the suicide of a child predator certainly fits this category.
- Following a subject suicide, it is acceptable and possibly appreciated to ask people about their thoughts and feelings. Talking about suicide is not taboo; it actually can give individuals an opportunity to share their perspectives. During assessments, USU personnel have spoken to officers who previously had not discussed their reactions; doing so gave them relief. Nonprofessionals should speak and listen to their colleagues about their reactions to suicide.
- If people cheer upon learning of a suicide, it is appropriate to point out that not everyone responds the same way. Providing tangible rules pertaining to behavior during critical times actually may relieve some discomfort, particularly when people are unsure about what to say or do in the midst of a suicide.
- Public displays of the subject suicide, such as posting pictures of the deceased individual or a “predator suicide list” on the office wall, can make some people uncomfortable in the workplace. Such actions also can give the impression to the public that the agency encourages subject suicide. Further, imagine a family member of the subject entering the office and seeing such displays; remember, they also are victims.
- Find appropriate ways for you and your team to control anger. Encourage peer discussion and provide team-building time and excursions. These cases make many officers feel primarily shock and anger. While investigators may compartmentalize such feelings, anger still is a normal response to extreme human violation and, perhaps, even necessary for officers to continue prosecuting these charges. However, personnel must funnel this anger in constructive ways. Perhaps, provide investigators an as-needed break. Sometimes, “dark” humor helps to detoxify exposure to horrific activity; however, although normal, it also may signify a need for more ways to ventilate.
Contact USU if you have questions about debriefings following a subject suicide. We can assist you or refer you to someone else who can help. Unit personnel can provide education about the psychological impact of working these cases.
Dr. Nicole Cruz of the FBI’s Undercover Safeguard Unit (USU) prepared this Safeguard Spotlight. USU provides guidance and support for personnel exposed to child pornography and child exploitation materials. The unit can be contacted at 202-324-3000.