The Risks and Rewards of Researching Victims of Crime

Stephanie Fohring*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
41 Downloads (Pure)


The concept of emotional labour is described as any effort, conscious or not, to change one’s feelings or emotions, thereby offering a useful framework for understanding the experiences of qualitative researchers working within so-called ‘sensitive topics’. Despite this, it has received little research attention in criminology and criminal justice compared to related concepts such as vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma refers to pervasive, cumulative and permanent changes that occur in a professional’s views of themselves, others and the world around them as a result of exposure to graphic and/or traumatic material. Conducting ‘sensitive topic’ research, such as with victims or offenders of crime, may expose researchers in this field to significant emotion work through engagement with potentially shocking and graphic experiences that are characteristic of serious trauma survivors. Victimisation is thought to be so disruptive because it challenges at a fundamental level our beliefs in a safe and benevolent world, and of ourselves as good (and hence undeserving) people. This article will draw on existing literature and the author’s extensive experiences of conducting in-depth interviews with victims of crime to explore the psychological impact of working closely with survivors of violent crimes. It will then show how the process of vicarious trauma mirrors that of trauma in victim/survivors. It will place this discussion against the backdrop of a rapidly changing and commercialising higher education sector and explore how the increasing pressures and reduced freedoms, in addition to the subject matter we study, require significant emotional labour and place us at a heightened risk for vicarious trauma. Finally, suggestions will be made regarding the best practice to avoid vicarious trauma and why, despite the risk, research in this area is still necessary and rewarding.
Original languageEnglish
Article number205979912092633
Number of pages11
JournalMethodological Innovations
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


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