LINKS & RESOURCES
NJ CLERGY ABUSE TASKFORCE
pecial Victims Unit
The Special Victims Unit (“SVU”) is a specialized unit within the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office that is dedicated to investigating crimes against, and bringing justice to, vulnerable populations. SVU investigates and prosecutes all child and adult sexual assault cases; non-sexual crimes against children, the disabled and the elderly; and all crimes involving the possession and/or distribution of child pornography. SVU also tiers, monitors, and makes all community notifications of registered sex offenders in Hunterdon County pursuant to the Registration and Notification of Release of Certain Offenders Act, commonly referred to as “Megan’s Law” (N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2 et seq.).
All local law enforcement authorities in the County, and the State’s Division of Child Protection & Permanency (“DCPP”), must report allegations of sexual abuse and child abuse to the Prosecutor’s Office. All investigations of sexual abuse are coordinated with SVU, which provides investigative assistance to municipal law enforcement agencies and State Police. With child victims, SVU exclusively interviews the child.
Members of SVU are prepared 24-hours a day, 7 days-a-week to respond to incidents that require an immediate response. Other matters are investigated in a time-sensitive manner. The victim’s safety and well-being are always the main priorities.
On the legal side, SVU is staffed by one Assistant Prosecutor. On the investigative side, several detectives are supervised by the unit’s Lieutenant and Detective Sergeant. All members of SVU are specially trained in forensic interviewing techniques that are used with children or other victims of abuse that require specialized attention, including the developmentally disabled.
Children under the age of 13 are interviewed at the Prosecutor’s Office’s Child Advocacy Center (“CAC”). The CAC is a confidential off-site location where vulnerable populations, such as children and the developmentally disabled, can be interviewed in a non-threatening atmosphere. The CAC is designed to put victims at ease through its design - a non-traditional interview room equipped with a more relaxed atmosphere. The interview room is furnished with couches and tools (such as anatomically correct dolls) to facilitate the victim’s comfort and ability to describe what happened to them. All interviews are video and audio recorded for evidentiary purposes and can be monitored live in a separate location by the Assistant Prosecutor and any involved agency.
Sexual assault is a term used to define a broad range of unwanted sexual activities. In New Jersey, sex crimes are defined under chapter 14 of the 2C Criminal Code. Sex crimes can happen to anyone, regardless of their age, sex, gender identity, educational level, race, or socioeconomic status. Perpetrators can be anyone, including but not limited to strangers, family members, friends, intimate partners, and clergy. In most cases, perpetrators are someone with whom the victim is acquainted. For example, studies conducted on child sexual assault consistently report that most victims knew their abuser. Regardless of the relationship between the victim and the suspect, no one deserves to be sexually assaulted and it is never excusable.
Victims may react in various ways to a sexual assault. Children often do not tell anyone the first time they are sexually assaulted and may not ever tell, particularly if the perpetrator is the child’s caregiver. Everyone should understand that there is no set way a victim of sexual assault will respond and that there is no “telltale” sign that a person is a victim of sexual assault. Some cry. Some do not. Some tell a friend. Some do not. Some report it immediately to the police. Some do not report it for years. Some even continue a relationship with the abuser after the assault occurs. Everyone reacts differently to sexual assault but help is available for all, regardless of whether a victim reports the abuse to law enforcement or not.
Even if a victim reports a crime but no criminal charge arises, that does not mean that the assault did not occur or that the victim was not believed. Criminal charges are filed when probable cause exists that a crime has been committed. This entails looking forward to whether the case can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. There also may be instances where it takes time for charges to be brought - this could be because SVU is waiting for lab reports, statements, reports, or other evidence.
Anyone who suspects that a child is being assaulted can, and should, report their concerns. All reports to DCPP are made confidentially, and the reporter remains anonymous.
Toll Free Phone number to report child abuse:
Reporting sexual assault can occur in many ways. The victim (or the victim’s caretaker or a witness) can report the assault directly to local law enforcement, the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, DCPP, the victim’s counselor/doctor, by going to the hospital, by confiding in a friend or family member, or by calling the statewide 24-hour hotline (800-601-7200). With law enforcement notification, SVU gathers the relevant information and coordinates a response.
Victims of sexual assault ages 13 and above who report a sexual assault that occurred within the previous 5 days have the option of consenting to a Sexual Assault Response Team (“SART”) activation. SART is comprised of a law enforcement officer, a confidential sexual violence advocate (“CSVA”), and a forensic nurse examiner (“FNE”). A victim may choose to engage one, two, or all three members of SART who, according to county protocol, must respond within one hour. Not all healthcare facilities are SART-participating, so every effort is made to direct the victim to an appropriate facility. Services provided by SART are free-of-charge to the victim.
If the victim chooses, a FNE will conduct a forensic medical examination. That examination will include the collection of biological fluids and blood. If the victim declines to report the incident to law enforcement, the evidence will still be held for five years at the victim’s request. If the victim does not report the assault within five years, then the evidence is destroyed. If the victim does report the assault, the evidence is retained by law enforcement.
If the victim is under the age of 13, then the child is examined at a state-designated child protection center (“CPC”). In Hunterdon County, the CPC utilized is the Dorothy B. Hersh Child Protection Center (“DBH CPC”). The DBH CPC conducts child abuse assessments and provides crisis intervention and referrals to medical and community resources.
Depending on the wishes of the victim, criminal charges may or may not be brought against the perpetrator. If criminal charges are brought, the Office of the Victim Advocate within the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office will work closely with the victim to keep the victim informed at all stages of the criminal justice process.
A victim of sexual assault may be able to get a court order to prohibit the perpetrator from having any contact with the victim. If criminal charges are brought against the perpetrator, the victim may be eligible for a Sexual Offense Restraining Order (“SORO”). If no criminal charges are brought, the victim may still be entitled to a protective order depending on the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. If the victim and the perpetrator had a pre-existing relationship that qualifies under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (such as a dating relationship), then the victim may be entitled to a Domestic Violence Restraining Order. If there is no domestic violence-qualifying relationship, then the victim may be entitled to a Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act Restraining Order (“SASPA”). A SORO is obtained by the Assistant Prosecutor on behalf of the victim in the criminal court whereas both the domestic violence and SASPA restraining orders are obtained by the victim applying for the order in the family court.
Victims of sexual assault can get help at SAFE in Hunterdon, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping empower and heal adult and child victims of sexual assault.
The New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (“NJCASA”) is New Jersey’s statewide advocacy organization that represents the State’s 21 county-based rape crisis centers and the Rutgers University New Brunswick Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance.
SVU is a member of the Internet Crime Against Children taskforce (“ICAC”), a national network of federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies. These agencies are engaged in investigations, forensic examinations, and criminal prosecutions of instances of child exploitation, most prominently involving the possession, transmission, and manufacturing of child pornography. SVU frequently receives tips from ICAC partners and also from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (“NCMEC”) about children being abused and exploited through child pornography. In New Jersey, child pornography is defined as images or video depicting persons under the age of 18 engaging in sexual acts or simulated sexual acts. SVU actively investigates all allegations of child pornography received from the ICAC, NCMEC, or other sources.
The SVU detectives involved in ICAC are highly trained in computer forensics and the latest and evolving technology. Possessing only one image of child pornography is illegal. Child pornography is not a victimless crime simply because the child depicted in the pornography may not be able to be identified. The exploitation of children is a serious crime – one that SVU is dedicated to detecting and prosecuting.
When a person is convicted of sexual assault and some other offenses in New Jersey, they are required to register their residence and employment with local law enforcement agencies. SVU is responsible for monitoring all registered sex offenders within Hunterdon County. SVU is also responsible for any community/law enforcement notification conducted for each registrant. The process begins when a person registers within Hunterdon County, which triggers a tiering process. The Assistant Prosecutor utilizes a standard risk assessment scale to determine what level of risk the registrant poses to the community. If a registrant is tiered as a tier 2 (moderate risk) or tier 3 (high risk), the matter is scheduled for court to obtain a court order to conduct community notification and/or internet notification. A tier 1 is “low risk” and is not scheduled to appear before the court but must still register. Some registrants, but not all, are listed on the sex offender website maintained by the New Jersey State Police. Low risk individuals, and others not meeting the requirements for internet posting, will not appear on the internet.
SVU’s Assistant Prosecutor and Lieutenant are members of the Attorney General’s statewide taskforce that is charged with investigating allegations of sexual abuse by members of the clergy within the Catholic diocese of New Jersey. There is a dedicated hotline available for people to report allegations of abuse by members of the clergy, which is staffed 24/7 by trained professionals.
Toll Free Phone Number to NJ Clergy Abuse Taskforce: