When Compassion Hurts: An Autoethnographic Experience of Vicarious Trauma by a Forensic Nurse

  • Sebaeng Jeanette M School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Free State, South Africa
Keywords: Autoethnography, Compassion, Forensic nurse, Vicarious trauma.


Caring for victims of violence includes obtaining history, examining and collecting evidentiary matter, and providing expert testimony in the court of law. In this paper, the researcher shared her own experiences as a forensic nurse on how being compassionate and listening to the stories of victims of violence and witnessing the sustained injuries led to some emotional stress which is referred to in the literature as vicarious trauma. Working every day with victims led to an altered worldview that impacted the researcher’s psychological, physiological, and social being. A qualitative autoethnographic approach was explored to describe the researcher’s experiences working with victims of sexual assault in a designated center within a public hospital. Personal narratives were used as a data collection method and thematic approach to analyze and describe the experiences. Although the researcher acknowledges that not every forensic nurse may suffer symptoms resulting from vicarious trauma, the shared experiences may add value to individuals who have an interest in enrolling for a clinical forensic nursing course in becoming conversant with the concept, to think of ways to handle vicarious trauma and seek interventions on time. Moreover, organizational managers may know the ordeal, forensic nurses’ experience and provide the necessary support.