Sarah McClellan, Chief
Many years ago, the U.S. Attorney's Office established a specialized Victim Witness Assistance Unit (“VWAU”) as a stand-alone section. The VWAU assists thousands of victims and witnesses each year, ensuring that they are aware of and are accorded their rights, and that they receive the support they need during the criminal justice process.
The VWAU is by far the largest victim witness program in all of the United States Attorneys' Offices. Comprised of 26 highly trained individuals, the unit is divided into three sections: Witness Security, Central Services and Victim/Witness Specialists. The Chief of the Unit is an Assistant U.S. Attorney who provides policy and legal guidance to the office on matters regarding victim and witness rights and services.
The Witness Security Section employs 5 staff members and a supervisor. Their role is to address security concerns raised by victims and witnesses who are threatened or perceive that they are threatened as a result of their participation in a case.
The Central Services Section is responsible for victim notification in both federal and D.C. Superior Court cases, handling tens of thousands of notifications per year. Specialists in this section also arrange for victim and witness travel for court appearances and witness conferences, assisting a significant number of international victims and witnesses. Section members also obtain interpreters for our many victims who speak foreign language and they ensure that witnesses receive reimbursement for required court appearances.
The Victim/Witness Specialist Section employs 15 highly experienced victim advocates who are stationed in various trial units within the Office. The Section is supervised by a doctor of psychology, and several advocates are licensed clinical social workers. Victim advocates have many responsibilities, including intake, safety planning, risk assessment, and court accompaniment. Our advocates also refer victims to grief counseling and other support programs within the community and they also assist them in submitting applications to the District's Crime Victims' Compensation Program.
The advocates are specialized based on their area of expertise. Several advocates work mainly with domestic violence victims (with one advocate specializing in elder abuse as well), while others work mainly with sexual assault or child abuse victims. One of our advocates specializes in working with family members and loved ones of homicide victims. Several other advocates work with victims of misdemeanor and felony assaults, carjackings, kidnappings, robberies and burglaries. In addition, an advocate is assigned to the federal crimes section where she routinely assists victims of trafficking, identity theft, child pornography, bank robbery and terrorism. Several advocates are fluent Spanish speakers, and the office maintains a dedicated telephone line where Spanish-speaking victims can obtain assistance. Often, the unit posts case-related updates and other information for victims on its public website.
The VWAU also employs a highly trained child forensic interviewer, who is co-located at SAFE SHORES, the D.C. Child Advocacy Center. The forensic interviewer conducts forensic interviews and assessments of victims and witnesses who are between the ages of two and seventeen or are vulnerable adults.