Special Victims Unit

The Special Victims Unit is a vertical prosecution unit within the Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office Criminal Division. The Special Victims Unit (SVU) is staffed by Assistant Mahoning County Prosecutors devoted to seeking justice for vulnerable groups.

The Special Victims Unit handles:

  • Sexual assaults
  • Domestic violence and domestic homicides
  • Crimes against children including child endangering and child pornography
  • Human trafficking
  • Crimes against individuals with developmental disabilities
  • Elder abuse, physical and financial
  • Animal cruelty

Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking

A distinguishing feature of the SVU is vertical prosecution, meaning that the same prosecutors  handle the cases from pre-indictment through sentencing.  Many incidents of physical and sexual abuse are not reported to law enforcement.  According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women will be raped in their lives.  However, a staggering 63% of sexual assaults are never reported to police.  The report rate is even lower when the victim is a child, with only 12% of child sexual assaults being reported to law enforcement[1].

Through the SVU’s vertical prosecution model, victims know who their prosecutors are early in the process.  Victims know who to contact with questions and concerns as their cases move through the criminal justice system.  Furthermore, vertical prosecution spares victims the trauma of describing their victimization to numerous prosecutors in various stages of prosecution.  The SVU prosecutors are prepared to address the specific needs of these victims during the criminal justice process.

Crimes Against the Elderly

Alarming statistics consistently demonstrate the need for the SVU to encompass crimes against elderly victims.  The United States Department of Justice reported in 2023 that 10% of adults in the United States over 60 years of age are victims of elder abuse each year with two-thirds of those victims being women.  Elderly victims are particularly vulnerable to call center scams, reporting more losses in such scams in 2022 than all other age groups combined.  Only 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse is reported to law enforcement.  In cases of financial abuse by a friend or family member, 87.5% of elderly victims did not report their victimization[2]

Animal Cruelty        

Turning to the protection of animals, the link between abuse of animals in the home and the abuse of family or household members is well established.  As the Animal Legal Defense Fund explained, “violence is violence; and those who commit violence rarely limit their victim pool to a single species.”  When animal cruelty takes place in a home, it is more likely that other family members are being abused.  In fact, animal abuse is one of the top four risk factors for domestic violence.  Domestic abusers also commonly use animals to instill fear in their victims or to prevent their victims from leaving their abusive situations.  In homes where domestic violence is occurring, 50% of children reported that their abusers threatened to hurt or kill a pet.  Approximately one-third of battered women have remained with their abusers for longer because they feared for their animals[3].  By prosecuting animal cruelty cases, the SVU will protect entire families.

Community Partners      

Community partnerships were essential to the development of the SVU. The SVU prosecutors work with Mahoning County Children’s Services Board, the Child Advocacy Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, and law enforcement agencies across Mahoning County to help ensure the safety of children in our community. Prosecutor DeGenova and the SVU also collaborate with Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities, COMPASS Family & Community Services, Direction Home of Eastern Ohio, and Animal Charity of Ohio. 

“We cannot express enough appreciation for the hard work and dedication of our community partners. Without their support our office and the SVU would not be able to achieve our mission to protect families and ensure justice is served,” said Prosecutor DeGenova.

[1] “Animal Cruelty’s Link to Other Forms of Violence.” National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2015. https://www.nsvrc.org/statistics.

[2] “Elder Abuse Special Feature.” Office of Justice Programs. U.S. Department of Justice, June 6, 2023. https://doi.org/10.1037/e567382012-001.

[3] “Animal Cruelty’s Link to Other Forms of Violence.” Animal Legal Defense Fund. Animal Legal Defense Fund, October 1, 2024. https://aldf.org/article/the-link-between-cruelty-to-animals-and-violence-toward-humans-2/.

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