“New OAG Special Victims Unit to Prosecute Crimes Against Vulnerable Residents”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Lorie Shaull

From a press release:

“Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has launched a Special Victims Unit (SVU) to focus on prosecuting crimes against some of the most vulnerable people in the District: sexual assault victims, young children, elders, people with disabilities, and children at risk for human trafficking. The unit will also provide specialized training to OAG prosecutors on forensic interviewing and forensic science, gathering evidence, litigating cases, and providing victims with the necessary services to prevent additional trauma during a case.

“This unit will help us seek justice for vulnerable victims of abuse and violent crimes and provide them with the special services they need to cope with trauma,” said Attorney General Racine. “We’ve learned from the best practices of other prosecutors around the country that specialized training is necessary to investigate and pursue these cases while being sensitive to victims’ needs. SVU is our latest effort to keep District residents safe and provide our community with dedicated resources to address the needs of both victims and offenders.”

OAG has authority to prosecute all offenses committed by juveniles in the District as well as certain adult misdemeanors. Prior to the unit’s establishment, OAG prosecutors who handle a wide variety of offenses also prosecuted crimes committed against special victims. After careful study of current practices by other nationally respected prosecutors and stakeholders, AG Racine established SVU to address the special circumstances in cases involving sexual assault and other vulnerable victims.

Special Victims Unit

The new SVU is composed of three dedicated prosecutors who report directly to the head of OAG’s Public Safety Division, Deputy Attorney General Mina Malik. The prosecutors will handle crimes involving:

Any victim of a sex crime or an attempted sex crime;
Any victim or respondent involved in human trafficking;
Any child under 13 years of age who is the victim of a crime;
Any victim 65 years of age or older;
Any victim who is disabled or otherwise vulnerable;
Mandatory reporters under District law who fail to report abuse or neglect.

The prosecutors assigned to SVU will investigate, prosecute and resolve cases as outlined above. Specifically, SVU will provide:

Specialized training to prosecute offenses against vulnerable victims: Prosecutors will receive special training to investigate, prosecute and resolve cases involving victims of violent offenses and sexual assault, as well as other matters involving vulnerable victims such as youth involved in human trafficking. For example, prosecutors will be trained in specialized techniques for interviewing child victims, victims with mental or physical disabilities, or elderly victims experiencing dementia or other cognitive decline. This will allow prosecutors to collect the best possible evidence while also protecting witnesses from further victimization. Prosecutors also need to understand the nature of these crimes and their effects on victims to build and present their cases effectively.

Centralized coordination among government agencies to fight crime: SVU prosecutors will serve as a single OAG point of contact for special-victims crimes with the Metropolitan Police Department, school officials, the Department of Forensic Sciences and other partner agencies. SVU prosecutors will be assigned at the outset of a case and partner with the essential agencies to ensure evidence is gathered in a timely manner and analyzed properly. This “vertical prosecution” model – with a single or a small group of prosecutors handling a case from beginning to end – builds rapport with victims and witnesses and ensures clear communication with, and attention to, outside agencies assisting with the case.

Connections to victim services: SVU prosecutors will work closely with OAG’s Restorative Justice and Victim Services Unit to provide victims with comprehensive services or recommendations for outside service providers, even in those cases that do not result in a prosecution. Early access to vital services will help victims address the effects of the crimes against them and will enhance the investigative process while minimizing additional trauma for the victims.

Educational resources and outreach in the community: In addition to their prosecutorial work, SVU attorneys will also regularly engage in public outreach through community meetings, schools, houses of worship and advocacy groups. They will educate the public on personal safety and how to identify and report potential cases of human trafficking. They will also work proactively with students and school administrators to raise awareness of sexual assaults in schools, protect and support student survivors, and foster cooperation among schools and law enforcement.

In addition to the current SVU prosecutors in OAG’s Public Safety Division, OAG will hire a prosecutor in SVU who will focus on cases of financial exploitation of seniors. This prosecutor will work with law enforcement partners to augment their ability to prosecute these crimes.

To Report Crimes and Access Victim Services

If you wish to report a crime that involves you or special victims, contact the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) by calling 911 or MPD’s Anonymous Tip Line at (202) 727-9099. You may also report crimes or provide information on crimes to OAG’s Public Safety Division at (202) 727-3500. More information about services for crime victims is available here.”

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