The ECPO Special Victims Unit was formed in 2010 in order to better coordinate the efforts of the ECPO Child Abuse Unit, the ECPO Sexual Assault and Rape Analysis (SARA) Unit, and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program. These three units are presently co-located at the Winona M. Lipman Child Advocacy Center at 185 Washington Street in Newark. This allows the efficient and synergistic sharing of resources, information, and experience between these units, whose roles and involvements in any particular case often overlap. An on-site Victim Witness Counselor assigned by the Victim Witness Advocacy Office works closely with this staff. This combined unit is also expanding its scope of service, e.g. to abused elderly victims and human trafficking victims.
The Sexual Assault and Rape Analysis (SARA) Unit is one of the oldest investigative units in the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. It originated in the 1970′s after the Newark Police Department became one of the first police departments in the nation to establish a sex crimes unit. The SARA Unit was developed to provide legal guidance and investigative support for all municipal police departments within Essex Country.
The SARA Unit originally handled all cases of sexual abuse within the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. As the field of sex crime investigation became more specialized in the early 1980′s, a separate Child Abuse Unit was developed. The Child Abuse unit handles all cases of abuse involving children under the age of 13. By 2001, after the opening of the County’s new Wynona M. Lipman Child Advocacy Center, all cases involving juvenile victims of abuse (under the age of 18) were solely handled by the Child Abuse Unit.
Today, the SARA Unit exclusively handles cases involving adult victims of a sex crime. The unit staff consists of experienced Assistant Prosecutors, Detectives, and clerical support employees. The SARA Unit cooperates closely with the on-site registered nursing staff who manage the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program.
Members of the legal and investigative staff are available 24 hours a day to assist local law enforcement in their investigations. The SARA Unit has also adopted a vertical prosecution approach, whereby prosecutors assigned to a case will handle it from its inception through trial. This allows for a more victim-centered approach. A victim will be given the stability of having to deal with a single investigative and prosecution team, thereby sparing the victim the need to endlessly repeat the details of the sexually abusive act to countless people. This approach protects the victim from the need to continually relive the abusive act.
The SARA Unit was involved in many cutting-edge legal issues, including the use of DNA evidence and Internet-related crimes. With the establishment of a national DNA Data bank by the FBI, Essex County was the first county prosecutor’s office in the State of New Jersey to have a positive match on a previously unidentified offender, as well as the first prosecutor’s office in the state to have a positive match on multiple cases committed by a serial sex offender.
The Child Abuse Unit (CAU) was established by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office (ECPO) in 1983 in recognition of an urgent need to protect abused children and prosecute those who harm them. The Prosecutor’s Office placed specialized law enforcement personnel with the desire, training, and experience to service abused children. Unlike most child abuse units throughout the country, the ECPO Child Abuse Unit services all children up to the age of 18. The CAU is also staffed by various SVU Assistant Prosecutors, Detectives, and support staff. The CAU maintains a twenty-four-hour on-call service for all county municipal Detectives and N.J. Division of Children and Families caseworkers (Division of Child Protection and Permanency).
The mission of the unit is to support an environment of lawful behavior, safety, security, and justice for all of the people of Essex County. We recognize that the children of Essex County are our greatest resource and we are committed to their protection. To accomplish this mission, the CAU uses the most advanced methods to successfully identify, apprehend, and prosecute those who commit crimes against children. When crimes against children occur, the CAU diligently pursues the arrest, indictment, and conviction of those responsible. At the same time, all Constitutional safeguards of the accused are respected.
By their very nature, child abuse investigations and prosecutions are extremely difficult. The CAU uses a multidisciplinary team approach to investigations and victim services. In conjunction with the Wynona’s House non-profit organization and the State Division of Children and Families, the CAU is an integral part of the Winona M. Lipman Child Advocacy Center located in Newark. The Winona M. Lipman Center may be the only child advocacy center in the country to have a full-time prosecutor’s office unit, child protective service caseworkers, juvenile trauma therapists, forensic pediatricians, and multi-disciplinary coordinators all under one roof.
The philosophy of the Center is the “Child Comes First” and a multi-disciplinary approach is used to protect child victims from unnecessary trauma during the investigative stages of a case. Under this approach, a single interview of all victims of sexual abuse under the age of 12 years old is conducted by a highly-skilled primary interviewer while professionals from other agencies view the recorded interview. The technique prevents multiple interviews by law enforcement officials and reduces trauma suffered by the victim. In addition, victim family members receive a wide range of services.
In December 2000, the Child Abuse Unit began videotaping the interviews of children under the age of 13 who have been sexually abused. A primary interviewer from law enforcement conducts the interviews while members from N.J. DCF and the Child Advocacy Center manager (Wynona’s House) sit in a monitoring room nearby.
Cases are investigated either solely by the CAU or through joint investigations with municipal Detectives or staff of N.J. DCF. The Assistant Prosecutors assigned to the Unit handle a significant number of cases from the inception of the investigation to the case’s ultimate disposition. The Unit is responsible for investigating or co-investigating cases involving children under the age of 18 who were victims of crimes which include:
- Sexual Abuse
- Physical Abuse
- Child Endangerment (abuse, neglect, cruelty, and abandonment)
- Child Pornography
- Interference with custody/kidnapping
Depending upon the results of the initial interview with the child, he or she may require a medical examination and assessment by the Lipman Center’s medical staff. The Lipman Center collaborates with Essex County Regional Diagnostic and Treatment Center for Child Abuse and Neglect at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey (RDC), whose physicians have extensive training in both pediatrics and issues related to child abuse. Through the compilation of the child’s medical history and the examination, evidence may be obtained and stored for the potential prosecution of the alleged perpetrator. The physicians also provide basic, preventative healthcare services to ensure the complete recovery of victims of child abuse.
The Lipman Center has implemented a twenty-four hour, seven-day a week on-call schedule for its investigative staff, thereby ensuring that all child abuse victims will be treated with the best care and concern, regardless of when they are victimized or choose to disclose.