Child Abuse/Sexual Assault Prosecution Unit
The Child Abuse Prosecution Unit was formed effective October 1, 1993, pursuant to a grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency. The main objective of the Child Abuse Unit was designed to vigorously prosecute all child abuse cases, while at the same time providing for the well-being of child victims throughout the criminal justice system by reducing emotional trauma and fostering positive cooperation. The unit was formed to move beyond similar existing programs by uniting both community and system based approaches. The intent was to offer early intervention by prosecutorial and law enforcement agencies, while preserving the protective and caring aspects of the community approach. At the same time, adult sexual assault cases were referred to a separate Assistant District Attorney, not assigned to any specialized unit, for prosecution.
In January of 2004, the Child Abuse Unit was expanded to include prosecution of adult sexual assault offenses, in an effort to provide one specialized unit that will handle all child abuse and sexual assault prosecutions. Prosecutors with this unit become involved in all cases at the very beginning stages, working with municipal and state police departments as well as numerous other agencies who are involved in the case. In all cases, the Assistant District Attorney will first review the file, and if appropriate will authorize charges to the local police department. Next, the Assistant District Attorney will attend a preliminary hearing for the defendant, where the Magisterial District Judge will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to allow the case to proceed to trial. This Unit directs each case through the criminal justice system.
In March of 2006, the District Attorney’s Office of Lancaster County became a team member of the local child advocacy center, the Lancaster County Children’s Alliance, which focuses on a multi-disciplinary team approach to child abuse investigations. Members of the multi-disciplinary team include the District Attorney’s Office, Children and Youth, Law Enforcement, YWCA, Lancaster General Hospital and Victim/Witness Services.
The Child Abuse/Sexual Assault Unit consists of three attorneys, paralegal/coordinator, and a victim witness advocate. The paralegal/coordinator works with all parties involved in scheduling preliminary hearings, as well as completing discovery, motions and various other legal filings.
The victim/witness advocate works with the victim and family from the initial charge through sentencing. This includes meeting with them prior to any interviews, hearings and court proceedings. She provides emotional support, as well as assisting in the gathering of information and answering all questions about the legal process. Prosecuting child abuse and sexual assault offenders is a highly emotional and difficult process. The Lancaster county District Attorney’s Office considers this one of it’s top priorities.