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Psychological Trauma Widespread in Federal Public Safety Employees


 New Report Calls for Federal Measures to Protect Safety and Justice Workers
Affected by Exposure to Traumatic Material

OTTAWA, June 20, 2017 /CNW/ - A report released today by the Union of Solicitor General Employees (USGE) calls for federal measures to protect and recognize public safety and justice workers who are at significant risk of suffering psychological injuries from exposure to second-hand trauma at work.

The national survey reveals the majority of public safety employees who responded are negatively affected by the violent nature of criminal histories, victim statements, graphic evidence, and related materials they manage in high stress work environments. These include parole officers, teachers and others working in federal prisons, and employees in RCMP detachments, federal courts and the Parole Board of Canada.

"The toll from constant exposure to trauma on frontline workers such as police, paramedics and firefighters is widely-recognized," said USGE National President Stan Stapleton. "Yet public safety and justice workers working behind the scenes are disproportionately affected by exposure to second-hand trauma. These workers receive almost no training or preparation, few protections, and little recognition for their injuries."

More than three-quarters of the public safety workers surveyed – 79 per cent – said they had experienced at least some personal impact from viewing traumatic material.

"We could write a book and nobody would believe what we see, read, hear, endure and deal with every day," responded a female parole officer. "How do you read some of the most traumatic, horrifying and terrifying material, and then come home to your family and not bring this with you?"

The report recommends federal measures that include amending the Government Employees Compensation Act to recognize operational stress injury for public servants exposed to both direct and vicarious trauma. As well, expanding the federal Employee Assistance Program to give employees access to specialized trauma counsellors.

The respondents, predominantly female, included RCMP public employees who transcribe hundreds of hours of victim statements describing horrific child sexual abuse; parole officers who document detailed histories of violent offenders; and program officers who work in the assessment and treatment of sex offenders.

Respondents reported experiencing nightmares and insomnia, emotional difficulties or outbursts, feelings of fear and grief, marital problems, and a decrease in physical health. An RCMP detachment service assistant exposed to traumatic situations several times a day said her "parenting has changed due to traumatic experiences." An RCMP analyst described how exposure to violent crime files has made her withdrawn, more hypervigilant, and untrusting.


USGE represents more than 16,000 members in 17 federal departments who work to keep Canadians safe every day. USGE members have critical roles in the federal penitentiary system and RCMP detachments. They work to protect the safety and privacy of Canadians and to help provide access to information, justice and human rights.

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Report Highlights

  • 80 per cent said they experienced at least one of the following symptoms from working with traumatic material: insomnia, nightmares, depression, increased alcohol and drug consumption and relationship problems. Insomnia was widely reported in 70 per cent of respondents.
  • Of the 92 per cent of respondents across all departments who work with written material or statements during a typical workday, 84 per cent said they are exposed to traumatic content.
  • More than three quarters of respondents said their employer does not provide specific training for reading and viewing traumatic material.


SOURCE Union of Solicitor General Employees

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