How Did You Get That Job?
Where did you get the training and
As chief of the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the U.S. Marshals
Service in Washington, D.C., Michael Bourke, PhD,
conducts research and training on predators
BY HEATHER STRINGER
experience needed for this job?
At age 19, I worked as an undergraduate
intern in a maximum-security prison,
where I helped run psychoeducational
groups for drug offenders. Then
in graduate school, I worked in an
outpatient sex-offender treatment
program. I liked the job because I
interacted with clients from a variety
of socioeconomic backgrounds and
co-morbid diagnoses. Some were high-functioning people—politicians and
physicians—and I was interested in how
they compartmentalized their deviances.
Then I worked for eight years as a
staff psychologist and polygraph examiner for the Federal Bureau of Prisons’
Sex Offender Treatment Program. I
evaluated and treated hundreds of sex
offenders, and developed a comprehensive understanding of how they think
How did you find out about the job?
In 2006, I had a conversation with a for-ward-thinking individual in the Marshals
Service who had the vision to create
the National Sex Offender Targeting
Center. The Marshals Service didn’t have
a Behavioral Analysis Unit at the time.
But she recognized the value someone
with my training could provide. This
woman tasked the new center with tracking down fugitive sex offenders, and she
asked me to outline how someone with
my background could contribute to that
mission. That document became the basis
for my job description.
What is most challenging or difficult
about your job?
On a daily basis I’m exposed to the most
evil acts human beings can commit, and
I learned many years ago to stop saying,
“I’ve seen everything.” When you gain
insight into the darkness of humanity, it
changes your perspective. For example,
it’s hard for me to avoid hypervigilance.
What do you do as a psychologist
working for the U.S. Marshals Service?
My work is focused on apprehend- ing sex offenders. I divide my time between train- ing people who
work with this population, interviewing sex offenders, conducting research
and providing operational support to
U.S. Marshals Service investigators. In
addition, I frequently travel internationally to train police colleagues about
the motivational pathways and behavioral characteristics of sex offenders,
such as how they groom their victims.
In the last decade, I’ve trained more
than 45,000 federal judges, child advocacy workers, lawmakers, prosecutors,
treatment providers and social services
I’m also a sworn law enforcement
Do you conduct any research?
officer, and I interview sex offenders in
prisons and out in the field to learn more
about their motivations and matters
relevant to our investigations. One time,
for example, I went to the home of a
sex offender who had violated the terms
of his probation by writing letters to
incarcerated sex offenders. During our
conversation, I learned he was developing
a network of “pen pals” who abused very
young children and infants. He had asked
them to send him detailed accounts
about the acts they performed with the
children. The letters were confiscated as
potential evidence of criminal activity
and the man was returned to prison.
Yes, I have done quite a bit of research
about how to psychologically safeguard
people who work with this population or
have to view child exploitation material.
I’m contacted regularly by investigators
and prosecutors who acknowledge that
they are struggling with the effects of
viewing child exploitation material—
difficulties with intimacy, trouble interacting with their children, hypervigilance
and nightmares, to name a few symptoms.
Most agencies are not equipped to help
workers become resilient, so I wanted to
develop best practices for safeguarding
them from the effects of vicarious traumatization. To do that, I called producers and
directors in Hollywood and on Broadway
to gather information about how they
draw audiences into their films and plays.
I then “reverse engineered” their techniques to help professionals emotionally
distance themselves from the videos they
reviewed for their work. I experimented
with strategies like watching abuse footage out of order, turning off the sound to
decrease sensory immersion and looking
away from the eyes of the victim.
These techniques have been shown
to decrease people’s emotional distress. I
train people nationally and internation-
ally to use these practices to increase staff
wellness. L L O