Section Chief: Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Testa
Unit Commander: Lieutenant Jeff Dunlap
Child abuse cases are singularly difficult to prosecute. No other type of case presents such consistently complex psychological and social dynamics. No other so often requires the assistant prosecutor to go to trial with a child as the most crucial witness. The pressure on victims is uniquely painful.
In addition to the devastating effects of abuse itself, revelation or discovery of the crime frequently results in the child or offender being removed from the home, leaving the family’s life disrupted, often permanently.
In the vast majority of cases the offenders are trusted authority figures – family members, neighbors, babysitters, members of clergy, scout masters or teachers – who physically or sexually abuse or neglect the children dependent on them. And unlike victims of most other crimes, child victims of abuse are sometimes castigated as villains by family members and friends who hold them responsible for shattering the family structure.
The specifics of a child abuse investigation depend on the type of report alleged, such as physical, sexual, kidnapping, luring/enticing, endangering or neglect; the child’s age and ability to communicate, and how soon the report is received after an abuse incident.
DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
The unit’s Assistant Prosecutors supervise investigations, file criminal charges, direct plea negotiations and conduct trials and sentencing recommendations.
The Special Victims Unit Commander is responsible for the administrative and investigative management of the Unit.
The investigators gather all pertinent facts in all child abuse related matters. The unit’s investigators must be experts in interviewing child victims and child witnesses, as well as alleged offenders. Investigators are involved in executing search warrants, photographing evidence such as injuries to a victim, arranging for medical examinations and collecting evidence.
In cases where a criminal prosecution is not supportable, cases are sometimes referred to the N.J. Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) for social intervention.
In addition to cooperating with the Division of Youth and Family Services, members of the Special Victims Unit work with social services, local law enforcement agencies, medical facilities, schools and daycare centers. These agencies discuss cases at bi-weekly meetings to ensure they are properly completed and follow-up services to victims and their families are implemented.
A Special Victims attorney, the unit commander and two investigators are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Victim-Witness counselors who work at the Child Advocacy Center lend their expertise to the sensitive dynamics of child abuse investigation, helping ensure that victims and their families receive the necessary assistance, including medical, counseling, clothing, shelter and state funded monetary assistance.
The administrative personnel within the Special Victims Unit are responsible for the day-to-day administration of the unit, which includes receiving child abuse information and routing it to the appropriate personnel. Administrative functions also include transcribing numerous recorded interviews of victims and witnesses.