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How to Become a Special Victims Unit Detective

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Special Victims Unit detectives handle specialized cases involving sexual assault crimes, such as rape, child pornography and the sexual and physical exploitation of children. SVU divisions have gained a great deal of prominence thanks to the successful "Law and Order: SVU" television show. Not every police department has an SVU division, and those that do require a particular set of skills in order to join. If you want to join a Special Victims Unit, be prepared to work hard and spend a lot of time reaching your goal.

Go to college and study a field pertinent to law enforcement, such as criminal justice or forensic science. Police departments in large cities usually require an associate's degree, and while smaller departments may not have college requirements, a bachelor's degree tends to help your chances at promotion. A few classes in psychology or sociology may prove valuable for SVU work as well.

Attend the police academy in your area. When you graduate, you'll become a uniformed patrol officer assigned to a precinct. You need to work for some time as a patrol officer before you can apply for detective work: anywhere from 2 to 5 years, depending on your particular department.

Maintain impeccable standards as a patrol officer. That means arriving at work on time, not missing days, filling out paperwork appropriately and maintaining high marks in fitness reports and similar evaluations. The better your performance, the more likely you are to be considered for a job as a detective.

Learn any additional requirements you need to join the Special Victims Unit. These can include promotion to a certain rank, an affinity for SVU cases, a certain number of specific college credits or training through any number of federal, state or local training classes.

Take the exam required to become a detective. Most police departments require a psychological evaluation as well as a written exam. You'll need to study for it, and in some cases it may entail a transfer to another precinct. Detective examinations are typically held once each year, although they may be held more often in certain circumstances.

Request assignment to the Special Victims Unit. Be prepared to cite any specific training, skills, and abilities you have that qualify you for SVU work.


SVU cases often involve traumatized victims who have suffered some horrific torments. You need to show sympathy and support for the victims while retaining your objectivity and ability to focus clearly on the facts.