Secondary Traumatic Stress: The Experiences of Social Workers in the South African Police Service

Francine Masson, Jacqueline Moodley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


South Africa is a particularly violent and traumatised society. Occupational and forensic social workers employed by the South African Police Service (SAPS) are confronted with many occupational stressors, including secondary traumatic stress (STS). STS can result in reduced functioning and/or performance in a social worker’s professional and/or personal life. A mixed methods approach was adopted to explore the phenomenon of STS in the social workers employed at SAPS. In the first stage of the study, the Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale (STSS) was completed by 128 social workers. During the second stage of the study, 30 participants were purposively selected and interviewed about their responses to the constant exposure to traumatic material. Quantitative data were analysed through descriptive and inferential statistics and qualitative data were analysed through thematic analysis. Results showed that the level of STS among these social workers was a concern as many participants experienced symptoms of intrusion, avoidance and arousal. Differences in STS levels were found depending on the race and rank of the participants. This study highlights the need for social workers to adopt self-care practices and for policies to be implemented to ameliorate the effects of STS.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-189
Number of pages21
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 26 May 2020


  • South Africa
  • forensic social work
  • occupational social work
  • police
  • secondary traumatic stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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