The Special Victims Unit and Child Sexual Abuse Investigations

The Special Victims Unit (SVU) of the Philadelphia Police Department investigates all reported sex crimes committed in the city of Philadelphia against adults and children. In addition, the Unit investigates reports of physical abuse committed by caretakers against children under 18 years old. Over 5,500 cases of physical and sexual abuse are reported to the SVU each year. The SVU is made up of three sections:
• The Line Squad
• The Child Abuse Unit (CAU)
• The Special Investigations Unit (SIU)

Child sexual abuse allegations are reported to SVU in various ways. The two most common methods are direct calls made to 911from a concerned third party, or even from the victim, and reports made through the Department of Human Services (DHS). As a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week operation, the SVU immediately responds to and investigates all reports. Calls to 911 are usually investigated through the Line Squad. For example, if a mother comes into a room and finds her boyfriend sexually abusing or inappropriately touching her 11-year-old son, she would immediately call the police. A uniformed police officer would respond and transport the family to SVU. There the Line Squad is responsible for speaking with the family and coordinating the investigation. They investigate both adult and juvenile crimes reported to the Special Victims Unit -- there is no specialization.

The SVU Child Abuse Unit (CAU) investigates all juvenile referrals that come from DHS, both physical and sexual abuse. A citizen may call the DHS hotline. Or a doctor might examine a child in the emergency room and suspect sexual abuse. He/she files a form called a CY-47 and notifies DHS, who in turn notifies the SVU Child Abuse Unit.

The Special Investigations section of the SVU provides back-up to all investigations. They are also charged with identifying and charting patterns, conducting extraditions, providing Internet expertise in pedophile investigations and following up on cold cases.

The ultimate goal of child abuse unit investigators who partner with the Children's Alliance is collaboration between DHS, the Police Department, the District Attorney’s office, and medical professionals on all reported child abuse cases. The current monthly Case Conference meetings, which bring together representatives from all the above groups with Children’s Alliance staff, are a component of complete collaboration. The relocation of the SVU to Episcopal Hospital, potentially with the Children’s Alliance, will also improve the current system.

There are few crimes more devastating to both the victim and the community than sexual assault. When the victim is a child and the abuser a trusted adult, like a family member or caretaker, it is particularly devastating. The Special Victims Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department is committed to investigating and resolving these cases to bring a sense of justice to the victims.