Penn’s Ortner Center on Family Violence Releases “Violence Against Women” Report to the City

PHILADELPHIA -- Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence and Philadelphia City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell have released a report assessing the city’s handing of domestic-violence cases and recommending improvements.

Violence Against Women in Philadelphia: A Report to the City” features the perspectives of nearly 20 organizations that work with victims of domestic violence and sometimes those who commit domestic violence.

“Practices and procedures have led to incomplete data, but, more importantly, opportunities to identify and intervene with abusers and victims are routinely missed,” said Susan B. Sorenson, director of the Ortner Center, at the School of Social Policy & Practice at Penn.  “At this point, the agency doing the most proactive work in terms of the practices, procedures and collaboration with other agencies may well be the Philadelphia Police Department.”

While the number of calls to 9-1-1 about domestic violence issues has decreased, the number of arrests has increased. 

In 2009, the number of domestic-violence calls to 9-1-1 reached 157,176.  But, in 2011, the number dropped to 145,904.  As a result of those calls, there were 4,927 domestic-violence arrests in 2009 and 6,256 in 2011.

In 2010, the Police Department, with the help of local domestic-violence agencies, started using a new, improved on-scene evidence-collection form for domestic  violence calls.  The Ortner Center was instrumental in helping to develop that form.  

“While law enforcement is the primary public framework used to address violence against women, this violence has a substantial impact on a wide range of city services and programs, including public health, behavioral health, homelessness and child welfare,” Sorenson said.

In addition to the Police Department, many other organizations contributed to the report, including the Department of Public Health, the district attorney’s office, the rape crisis center, domestic-violence programs, the Department of Human Services, the Veterans Administration Medical Center and the medical examiner’s office.

Violence Against Women in Philadelphia” highlights include:

• The rate of protection-from-abuse orders issued in Philadelphia is about twice as high as elsewhere in Pennsylvania. According to Pennsylvania law, the person seeking a restraining order is responsible for serving the papers to the accused, although police help can be requested.

• Philadelphia has only one emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence which is always full, causing thousands to be turned away. Many of those turned away must go to the homeless-shelter system where they fill as much as 37 percent of the beds. 

Some recommended actions included in the report:

• Online posting of photographs and other information about persons wanted for domestic violence.

• Creating uniform screening, documentation and intervention protocols at hospital emergency departments.

• Increasing the city’s capacity to provide emergency shelter.

• Increased funding for the district attorney’s office to provide adequate staffing of the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit.

Four Penn students helped launch the project: Elizabeth Sivitz, an undergraduate who took the lead; Yair Schiffy; Jia Xue; and Kendra Birdsall. 

Funding from the Philadelphia Foundation and the Trustees' Council of Penn Women made the work possible.