The Child Advocacy Center of Gloucester County houses the Special Victims Unit of the Gloucester County Prosecutors’ Office. The mission of the Special Victims Unit is to strengthen the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office (G.C.P.O.) response to the investigation, prosecution and intervention of reported allegations of domestic violence, adult sexual assault, child sexual abuse, physical abuse, human trafficking, child exploitation and child maltreatment by offering a friendly environment where they can disclose their abuse to experienced and trained law enforcement officers. The SVU utilizes a coordinated multidisciplinary team approach to sexual assault and crimes against children, with the hope and premise that we reduce trauma, ensure safety, and promote healing of victims and their family members.
The Special Victims Unit (SVU) of the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office was created on January 9, 2019 and includes a Lieutenant, a Sergeant, three Detectives, an MDT Coordinator/Victim Witness Advocate, a Forensic Nurse Examiner, a Chief Assistant Prosecutor, two Supervising Assistant Prosecutors and six Assistant Prosecutors. The SVU is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults against both children and adults, physical abuse of children, missing children, and human trafficking. The Special Victims Unit also maintains the Gloucester County Child Abduction Response Team, which is a team of resources allocated if a child goes missing in Gloucester County. The Special Victims Unit oversees the report of all children missing under the age of 13 and under the age of 18 if certain circumstances are present. Additionally, the SVU oversees the daily functions of the Child Advocacy Center.
One of the main purposes of the Child Advocacy Center is to provide a safe place for children who have experienced abuse to tell their story in a forensic interview. A forensic interview is a child forensic interview is a neutral, structured, fact-finding interview, that is intended to elicit disclosure of abuse or neglect, and/or happenings that a child may have experienced or witnessed that may be helpful in response to a child abuse or neglect allegation. The interview is based on the developmental needs of the child and is conducted by a forensic interviewer, specifically trained in using non-suggestive, non-leading, and research-based techniques to elicit the disclosure of abuse or neglect. A child forensic interview should be the starting point of most investigations and provide direction for other aspects of the investigation. All Detectives in the Special Victims Unit are required to be trained by the New Jersey Finding Words Program, which teaches the Child First Interview Protocol sponsored by the Zero Abuse Project. During this training they learn how to forensically interview children who have experienced abuse or witnessed interpersonal violence. Additionally, Detectives are taught how to corroborate the statements of the children to support the successful prosecution of these cases. The interviews are video-recorded and audio-recorded and have proven to be invaluable tools in the successful prosecutions of child abusers.
The Special Victims Unit is responsible for the activation, training and oversight of the Gloucester County Child Abduction Response Team. Lieutenant Stacie Lick is the CART Coordinator for Gloucester County and Sergeant Gregory Malesich is the Co-Coordinator. The Special Victims Unit is required to be notified of any child that is missing under the age of 13, the report of a missing child under the age of 18 with special needs, the abduction of a minor child, the abduction of a minor child with endangerment circumstances and/or any other circumstance of a missing child that requires an immediate response. The Gloucester County CART is comprised of approximately 120 resources to include local, county, state and federal partners. A list of the resources is maintained and updated yearly to be utilized during activations. The SVU is responsible for assuring all investigative measures have been taken related to missing children in Gloucester County. If the Gloucester County CART is activated it is the SVU’s responsibility for assuring an organized, unified response with the purpose of recovering the child safely.
The Child Advocacy Center of Gloucester County also house our Sexual Assault Response Team Coordinator and the Coordinator of our Forensic Nurse Examiners. In Gloucester County, this program has been in place since 1997. The Gloucester County program began with a small group of committed nurses at Underwood-Memorial Hospital and a $10,000 training grant through the local United Way. The program has grown significantly as the result of funding through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grant administered by the Division of Criminal Justice.
Forensic nurse examiners are registered nurses trained to provide comprehensive care to sexual assault victims at the hospital’s emergency department. The forensic nurse provides a comprehensive medical-forensic exam, including collection of potential evidence, detailed exam, photographs of injuries and treatment. A forensic nurse is on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to respond to the victim at the emergency department in order to alleviate any delay in the victim receiving care.
When requested, the Forensic Nurse responds to the hospital to provide a medical forensic examination and care consistent with the Sexual Assault Response Team policy and the Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Response Standard. An emergency response includes activation of staff of the designated rape advocate agency, SERV, to assist the victim with counsel and support. The law enforcement agency, if not the first responder, is activated with the consent of the victim to respond to the hospital. The approach is victim-centered and recognizes the victim’s right to come forward for medical, psychological and law enforcement assistance.