by Eric Oldenburg, Griffeye
We recently met up with Eric Oldenburg, Griffeye’s new Law Enforcement Liasion in North America, and heard about his new role. Here, he explains how reducing mental stress for investigators is a driving force for him, one that led him to work for Griffeye, and why the mental health of investigators is a subject that we must talk more about.
In 2001 I started working with child sexual abuse crimes at the Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce (ICAC). Looking back, I can’t think of any other work that is more fulfilling, but before taking the job I had no idea how mentally difficult it would be. At that time, I don’t believe anyone had a great understanding of the trauma that it causes investigators and examiners to see it. But when you break it down, and you really think about it, you are watching children being abused, which is a terrible and unnatural thing. So as a result, it comes with a lot of problems.
When stress starts to take its toll
Speaking for myself, I started to feel mentally stressed after about four years. I often came home from work mad and I didn’t know why. My home life with my family suffered and my marriage was under a lot of stress – to the point where I almost got divorced. I also had physical issues. But thanks to my wife, I realized I needed a break from the job.
The plan was to just take a one-year break and then go back as a computer forensics examiner, but it ended up being four years. And the reason I eventually went back was that a lot of other great examiners started to leave the ICAC unit because of the same reason. It wasn’t just me – and I realized that this is a huge problem. So this time, my mission was to find a solution of alternate workflows and a way to minimize the exposure. This is when I first came into contact with Griffeye.
A man called Dave
One of the people who left as a result of mental stress was Dave. I often tell people about him because he was one of the best examiners I have ever met, but three years into it we lost him. One day he just raised his hand and said, “I can’t do this, it’s too much”.
My belief is that the better you are at your job as an examiner, the harder you work, and the quicker you get to the point where you can’t do it anymore. And for Dave, it got so far that the videos were playing in his head 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He just couldn’t get them out of his head.
He also ended up getting divorced because of it, and that is a unique problem. Usually, your partner is your support staff – the one you lean on. But when you are exposed to child sexual abuse every day, you don’t want to put that on your significant other. And also, you don’t want to talk about it because you don’t want to go through it again. So, that means you have nowhere to put it – there’s nowhere for this pain to go. And because of that, great investigators like Dave quit.
When I asked Dave about permission to tell his story, his answer was “Please, tell everybody. Tell everybody you can that it happened to me. I am a cautionary tale.” So, I tell his story as often as I can because it gets to the core of why the mental health of CSA investigators needs more resources and why solutions like Griffeye are so important. We need to ensure that great people keep doing great work to protect children.
The need to reduce exposure
Unfortunately, it takes around two to three years for most examiners to learn everything and be really good at the job, but that is almost the same time frame as it is to get exposure fatigue. So, it takes huge investments, time and experiences to create really good examiners – and when they finally get there they are so sick of the job that they leave. So, we lose both good people and great skills. That is why we must use solutions to extend the time that these examiners are in the game. In my opinion, the only way that is going to happen is to reduce the exposure.
I often say that people have an expiration date, and it differs from person to person. For one person it might be a couple of months before they can’t handle it anymore. For someone else, it’s ten years; and some people are just not suited for the job at all. But if we can reduce the exposure we have come a long way.
I liken it to a boxing match. If the boxer keeps the guard up and doesn’t get punched as much, he can stay all ten rounds in a fight. But if he constantly gets hit over and over and over again, he goes down. So, the mission is to keep the “fighters” in the fight longer, hopefully the whole ten rounds – and that is why I am so happy about working for Griffeye. The core of Griffeye is to help investigators in their job. And also, I am happy to see that the mental health of investigators is something that more and more people have come to recognize.