Penn's Ortner Center helps raise awareness about domestic violence

Every minute, nearly 20 people in the United States face physical abuse by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). Every nine seconds a woman gets assaulted or is beaten. One in 3 women will become the victim of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. For men, that number is 1 in 4.

The NCADV inaugurated October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in 1981 to remember those who have been killed and to celebrate survivors.

Researchers at Penn’s Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence in the School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2) opened Domestic Violence Awareness Month in late September, and have been tweeting and blogging about the topic throughout October.  

Susan B. Sorenson, a professor of social policy and health and societies at SP2 and director of the Ortner Center, has been conducting research on domestic violence for decades.

“The issue hasn’t gone away,” she says. “It’s still with us; it still needs to be addressed.”

Sorenson recently began collaborating with the Philadelphia Police Department to help shape a new form for police officers to use when responding to domestic disputes.

In 2013, the Philadelphia Police responded to more than 100,000 domestic violence calls, and Sorenson and her Ortner Center team are parsing the data, looking for patterns to help the police better understand which offenders might abuse again.

“It’s not as if the same guy knocks off the same 7-11 or the same bank each time,” Sorenson says. “But in intimate partner violence, it’s typically the same couple—the same offender and the same victim.”

Rebecca Schut, a senior health & societies major in the Department of History and Sociology of Science, says through her work with Sorenson at the Ortner Center, she has gained a greater understanding about domestic violence, the types of people involved, and the situations that can occur.

Schut has participated in ride-alongs with Philadelphia Police officers responding to domestic violence calls, including one instance when a mother reported that her 12-year-old son was running around with a gun.

“This is the reality of some people’s lives, and it’s just devastating,” she says.

Using the data provided to the Ortner Center by the Philadelphia Police, Schut is examining more than 10,000 parent-child abuse cases. Lauren Ferreira Cardoso, a third-year Ph.D. student at SP2 who is also working with Sorenson, is focusing on technology’s role in domestic violence.

“It’s important there is a time that [domestic violence] is a priority, that this becomes something people talk about,” Cardoso says. “It’s important that people are placing enough value on it that it gets its own month, that we take it seriously enough.”

Sorenson says one of her goals is to make the Ortner Center a go-to resource for anyone looking for information about domestic violence. She and her students will continue to study the field in an effort to shine a light on its victims.

Advocates with the National Domestic Violence Hotline are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) in more than 170 languages. All calls are confidential and anonymous.

Susan Sorenson