“We Go In, We Ask Questions.”

While we frequently field requests for information about improving police response to sexual assault, Canadian reporters and advocates have been especially interested in our work since February, when The Globe and Mail published “Unfounded,” a 20-month investigation into how Canadian police handle—and mishandle—rape cases.

The investigation revealed that one of every five sexual-assault allegations in Canada is dismissed as baseless and thus unfounded. The CBC just published a new report about efforts to address “unfounded” cases.

Today, the Waterloo Regional Police Task Force on sexual assault are meeting for the first time. Police and a group of more than 20 community members are going to review the 27% of sexual assault cases in the region that were deemed “unfounded.”

The Morning Edition with Craig Norris host Craig Norris spoke with Carol about our work, the Philadelphia model, and how advocates can help Canadian police improve their response to rape cases.

Listen to the 7-minute interview here, or read the transcription:

How does the Philadelphia case review model work?

It’s actually very simple. We’re a very large jurisdiction so we have about 6,000 cases coming in to the Special Victims Unit. For a three-day period a group of us, of advocates, review about 400 of those cases. We look at all unfounded rapes, and we look at any cases that have a non-UCR category, such a third-party report or medical investigation. We then look at a cross-section of open cases.

WLP’s Terry Fromson (left) and Carol Tracy talking to Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney about re-opened rape case files in 2002.

Why do you think it was so successful? Why do you think other people adopted this as a model?

It was a very bold move on the part of the late John Timoney, who was the police commissioner at the time. He realized, this is what he said to me, that the community had lost trust in him.

I think this is the precursor to what we call community policing today, where police leadership in many places understand that the community has to trust you and you have to trust the community. That’s what this model is about. It’s a tool. I repeatedly say it’s not the only thing needed—you need to have appropriate supervision and you need internal accountability, but you also need outside eyes in an area like rape and sexual assault [because these crimes] have just been permeated with bias against rape victims.

How did the Women’s Law Project become involved?

We’re a women’s rights organization, we work on a broad range of issues from reproductive rights, to violence against women, and gender discrimination. The Philadelphia Inquirer called us, the newspaper that did a report similar to [the recent expose “Unfounded” published by the The Globe and Mail].

We led the reform effort along with our rape crisis center, Women Organized Against Rape, and child advocacy groups [the Support Center for Child Advocates and the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance].

Was there a feeling that your organization were there to be critical of police?

The police were subjected to a significant amount of public scrutiny, both by Philadelphia City Council, because we asked them to hold hearings, and news coverage. They did their own internal review, they put in a completely new supervisory and administrative structure in the police department. The police commissioner said to me, “When you are reviewing these cases, [if] you can’t reach a resolution, you come to me about that.” So the process we engaged in, we say it wasn’t ‘a gotcha,’ it was about systems improvement.

They aired their dirty laundry, they put in a number of important measures to improve themselves internally, and our job moving forward was to make the process better. We are clearly not police, we don’t go in and try to re-investigate cases.

We go in, we ask questions. We look to see that the cases have been properly coded, we make sure all the witnesses have been interviewed, we look to see that all of the evidence has been collected, we look to see if there’s an interview instead of an interrogation [of the victim].

We look for indications of the victim-blaming that has been so commonplace in police practice, and throughout society quite frankly. That’s our role in this. Clearly it started in a more confrontational way, at least in our testimony before City Council and in initial meetings with the police commissioner, but once we sat around that table we all agreed we would become partners. And it’s worked that way.

Has the case review model changed how sexual assault cases are investigated [in Philadelphia]?

We’ve certainly seen a significant improvement in the case files over the years. Also, during this period of time, the whole body of trauma theory has developed, and the police just recently had a major training on trauma-informed investigations of sex crimes, so I think there’s been an increase in knowledge about the impact of trauma on victim behavior. There’s clearly been much greater attention paid to this, and the investigations have improved. They’re simply not, quite frankly, as sloppy as when we first looked at them.

Has that led to more women coming forward?

The police commissioner, within two years of this beginning, announced there had been a 20% increase [in reports].  I think when we first looked at this there were around 4,000 cases, and they are up to 6,000 now. I hope that it means that more sexual assault victims are willing to report to the police, that they [believe they] will be treated appropriately.

Finally, the Waterloo Regional police are launching their task force tomorrow. What advice do you have for them?

They have to trust the community they serve.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Posted in Police Reform | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monday AM: Carol Tracy Discusses Police Response to Sexual Assault on CBC  

Listen live!

At 7:40AM Monday morning, Women’s Law Project Executive Director Carol Tracy will be interviewed live on Canadian radio program The Morning Edition with Craig Norris.

Carol will be sharing insight from our experience working with the Philadelphia Police Department to reform police response to sexual assault, including the innovative annual advocate-led review of sex crime files that is now celebrated as a best practice.

While we frequently field requests for information about improving police response to sexual assault, Canadian reporters and advocates have been especially interested in our work since February, when The Globe and Mail published “Unfounded,” a 20-month investigation into how Canadian police handle—and mishandle—rape cases.

The investigation revealed that one of every five sexual-assault allegations in Canada is dismissed as baseless and thus unfounded. The CBC just published a new report about efforts to address “unfounded” cases.

Listen to the interview Monday morning live at the link.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Posted in Police Reform | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

PA Witholding Some Funds from “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” Amid Audit & Lawsuit

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services will withhold certain payments to Real Alternatives, a chain of so-called crisis pregnancy centers based in Pennsylvania. The decision is the latest development in what has become an ongoing battle between Pennsylvania authorities and the organization, which receives millions of taxpayer dollars.

Last September, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale initiated a routine audit of Real Alternatives after the Department of Human Services, which issues the funding, could not account for how all of the grant money is spent.

Real Alternatives currently has a $30.2 million five-year DHS grant, which expires June 30, 2017.

From a press release announcing the audit: A recent DHS audit revealed that Real Alternatives deducts a three percent fee from reimbursements to its service providers. Real Alternatives refused to provide information to allow DHS auditors to review reimbursements from the three percent fee or to provide any details on how the funds from the fee are used.

In March, Real Alternatives sued the Auditor General for auditing them.

“I am not alleging that the money is being used for illegal activities, but as Pennsylvania’s chief fiscal watchdog I demand to know how and where our tax money is being spent,” DePasquale said in a statement responding to the lawsuit. “Thirty million is a lot of tax dollars, I want to ensure 100 percent of those funds are providing services to pregnant women and their families in Pennsylvania as the grant agreement requires.”

Now, Pennsylvania DHS has decided to withhold some of the grant funds in response to the organization’s “continuing refusal” to allow public review of how it uses 3 percent of its $30.2 million state grant.

“I applaud the decision by the Department of Human Services to refuse to pay 3 percent of the grant which is equal to the amount which Real Alternatives has continually blocked from review by both my department and DHS,” DePasquale said. “I believe DHS is well within its right to withhold payment of this 3 percent ‘program development and advancement fee’ that Real Alternatives withholds from its providers at least until such time this group comes clean and opens up their books for review.”

Pennsylvania has been using state funds to finance crisis pregnancy centers for two decades. We are also one of a handful of states that divert Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds—safety-net funds for low-income families in need—to fund crisis pregnancy centers.

Meanwhile, while the state struggles to assess how Real Alternatives is spending its grant money, the Pennsylvania Legislature is preparing to vote on Senate Bill 300. SB300 is a bill that would effectively defund Planned Parenthood by withholding reimbursements for low-income Pennsylvanians who rely on Planned Parenthood for family planning and related preventative care services.

The defunding bill, Senate Bill 300, was just scheduled for a vote in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, April 26.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Posted in CPC Watch | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Thank You Shirley, for 22 Years of Service

Over the years, Shirley Silverman has assisted nearly 3,000 women.

The Women’s Law Project is 44 years old, and Shirley Silverman has been a volunteer here for half of the WLP’s life. Today, she is retiring, and we celebrate her accomplishments and offer her our gratitude.

For more than two decades, the Women’s Law Project has been fortunate to have retired women serve as anchors for our Telephone Counseling Service. Shirley led the way, recruiting other retired women with her passion and enthusiasm for helping the women of Philadelphia. Shirley brought a wealth of experience and wisdom to her work at the WLP and has been an inspiration to generations of younger volunteers.

In her role as a telephone counselor at the Women’s Law Project, Shirley Silverman has listened, educated, and empowered women and men who called the WLP for help.  At the beginning, Shirley volunteered as a helper to WLP’s administrative assistant, but it wasn’t long before she knew she wanted to do more. Eager to become a telephone counselor, she was so enthusiastic about her experience that she soon recruited two friends to join her. Now in her mid-80’s, Shirley has used her accumulated wisdom and zest for helping others to guide nearly 3,000 callers; she has been unfailingly generous with her time, frequently following up with callers to be sure they understand their options and feel supported as they move forward. We estimate that she has spent over 6,000 hours assisting women.

When asked what she enjoys most about being a telephone counselor, Shirley responded simply, “the people.” She gives the WLP kudos for “utilizing volunteers, especially young, bright women.”  She raves about the “family” she has made among the volunteers and staff of the WLP and how working with them has made her feel “proud to be here.”  Through her volunteer work at the WLP, Shirley has found some interactions with callers to be “upsetting, sometimes astounding, but ultimately rewarding.”  She is shocked by some of the stories she has heard about the mistreatment of women by men, but she believes she has made a difference in the lives of these women by lending an ear, giving out educational information, and empowering them to take a stand and to know their rights.

Shirley was born and raised in Philadelphia and studied at Temple University. During the Korean War, Shirley took a hiatus from her education to marry and raise her three children, but she returned to Temple to earn her degree and continued on to Trenton State earning a master’s degree in Speech and Language Therapy.  After completing her graduate degree, Shirley accepted a job as a speech therapist in several North Philadelphia public schools, where she worked with low-income elementary, middle, and high school children.  In 1994, after nineteen years in the Philadelphia school district, Shirley retired.  In addition to her three children, she has six grandchildren, four step-grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Shirley is a member of discussion groups in the building where she lives.  One group focuses on local, national, and international politics, while the other group focuses on movies and film.  She enjoys reading and going to the theater in her spare time.

We are eternally grateful to Shirley for her years of faithful service, and will miss seeing and talking with her in the office.

Thank you Shirley, for all of your hard work, and we wish you nothing but the best.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Posted in Volunteer VIP | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Tues 4/18: Rally for Reproductive Rights in Pennsylvania

Right-wing Pennsylvania lawmakers, emboldened by Trump and the regressive federal agenda, are trying to roll back reproductive rights in Pennsylvania.

Please join us on Tuesday, April 18 in Harrisburg for a lobby day and 1PM rally on the front steps of the state Capitol to let our legislators know that we will not allow them to play politics with women’s lives in Pennsylvania. Register here. Click “going” and share on Facebook here.

So far this year, radical right-wing lawmakers have introduced state bills to:

*Force women to carry unviable pregnancies to term, despite the medical risk and psychological trauma, and for no reason other than a handful of lawmakers’ personal beliefs (SB3)

*Force physicians in Pennsylvania to risk arrest for a third-degree felony for providing patients standard care, including safe legal abortion (SB3)

*Deprive thousands of Pennsylvania women of access to affordable reproductive healthcare services like family planning and STI screenings, despite the public health disaster, just to continue a political obsession with attacking Planned Parenthood (SB300)

We have a message for these lawmakers: We won’t go back. We won’t be forced back into an era where women with money had access to safe and legal care, while more vulnerable women were forced to take matters into their own hands. Constitutional rights should not be reserved for the rich. Women and families should make medical decisions, NOT politicians.

Currently awaiting a vote in the Pennsylvania House Health Committee (alongside companion bill HB77), SB3 has made national headlines because it is one of the most extreme, and cruel, abortion restrictions in the country. Its supporters have greased the bill through the Senate, despite robust opposition from medical experts and doctors, by repeatedly refusing to allow the public or doctors from having input on the chamber floor.

We refuse to be silenced and we won’t be ignored.

11AM – 1PM – ADVOCACY HOURS
For those interested in lobbying before the rally. Schedule your own appointment by calling your representative and requesting a meeting. We will have a table in the Rotunda with information about SB3 and SB300. (You can find your legislators here.)

1PM – RALLY 
At 1PM, we will rally on the front steps of the Capitol. Invite friends & bring signs! We will hear from champions for women’s rights and women’s heath in the Pennsylvania Legislature, doctors and the public.

Rally for Reproductive Rights is co-sponsored by Indivisible NW Philadelphia, Tuesdays with Toomey, the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health & the Women’s Law Project.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Posted in Field Trip | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

WLP’s Remarks at Today’s Equal Pay Day Rally in Harrisburg

Today is Equal Pay Day, the day of the year that women–on average–have to work to catch up with their white male counterparts’ earnings the previous year.

We are in Harrisburg at the State Capitol right now with our partners in the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health, a collaboration of more than 55 local, state and national organizations calling for commonsense policy solutions to improve women’s health and economic security in Pennsylvania. We’re are pleased to be here alongside equal pay champions in the Pennsylvania Legislature, including Rep. Donna Bullock, Rep. Brian Sims, Rep. Tina Davis, Rep. Maria Donatucci, and Sen. Anthony Williams.

WLP Managing Attorney Terry Fromson just spoke at the rally. These are her remarks:

Good morning. I am managing attorney of the WLP, a public interest law center dedicated to advancing the status and rights of women, and I represent the national Equal Pay Today! Campaign here in Pennsylvania.

Making equal pay a reality for PA women is and must be a high priority. Pennsylvania adopted an Equal Pay Act in 1959.

Sixty years later, it is clear it has failed us.

In fact, Pennsylvania’s equal pay act was weakened less than a decade after it was adopted to reduce the number of employees it applies to.Our equal pay law only applies to a small number of Pennsylvanians, limited as it is to specific types of employees like “farm labor on small farms,” “employment in public amusements” and “seamen on foreign vessels.”

What good is a law if it hardly applies to anyone?

In the last decade the wage gap has barely changed. At the rate we’re going, it will take a shockingly long time to achieve equal pay. Pennsylvania women, on average will not earn equal pay until 2068.

This is bad enough, but when you look at the time it will take women of color to get there, we are talking in the hundreds of years. To be exact, without closing the loopholes in current law, it will take 107 years for African American women to achieve equal pay.

It will take a whopping 231 years for Hispanic women to achieve equal pay, in the year 2248. Something is seriously wrong with a law that allows this to happen.

Our state equal pay act will only work for us if it is amended to:

  • Apply to all Pennsylvanians
  • Allow only differences in pay that are based on factors that:
    • Are not based on sex discriminatory pay from your last job.
    • Are job related to the position in question
    • Are necessary for the business
    • And Protect employee sharing of pay information, so women know when they are being discriminated against.

We also need to address other factors that contribute to women’s unequal pay:

  • Eliminate the pregnancy penalty by providing pregnant and nursing women with accommodations that allow them to stay on the job instead of forcing them to leave
  • Provide working parents with paid leave to care for themselves and family members.
  • Women suffer wage penalties because of sex stereotypes about pregnancy and family responsibilities
  • We also need to raise the minimum wage
  • Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women and they don’t earn a living wage.

These policy changes are essential for women’s economic security so that:

  • Women don’t have to live in poverty.
  • Women, the sole breadwinners in many households, can feed, house, and care for their families
  • Women don’t end up short-changed by $430,000 at the end of our lives
  • Women don’t have to work 10 more years than men to earn the same amount of money.

I truly believe we can win this fight. Good legislation has been drafted and introduced in both houses of the Pennsylvania General Assembly to fix our laws. Advocates, including myself, have testified in support of these policy solutions. The Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health, a collaboration of more than 55 local, state and national organizations working to improve women’s health and economic security in our state, has made equal pay a top priority.

All we need is for you to speak up, demand equal pay for equal work in Pennsylvania, and don’t let them ignore us!

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

 

Posted in Equal pay | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Action Alert: Stop SB300, a PA Bill to Backdoor “Defund” Planned Parenthood

Anti-abortion radicals in the Pennsylvania Legislature have proposed legislation to back-door defund Planned Parenthood by depriving low-income women of access to preventative healthcare like STI screenings and affordable contraception.

Senate Bill 300 was introduced last week by Sen. John Eichelberger (R- Blair/Cumberland/Franklin/Fulton and Huntingdon), a politician you may recall from his vocal support of SB3, a severe abortion restriction currently under consideration in Pennsylvania that threatens doctors with a third-degree felony for providing their patients with standard care. (Read more about SB3 here. It passed the Senate and is currently sitting in the Pennsylvania House Health Committee.)

Specifically, SB300 seeks to amend the Pennsylvania fiscal code so that federal and state family planning funds are prohibited from reimbursing healthcare facilities that also provide safe, legal abortion care. In other words, it is a crafty way to attack Planned Parenthood, an organization that serves 90,000 women in Pennsylvania every year.

Numerous studies have shown that there are not enough federally qualified health facilities providing family planning services to absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients. In three Pennsylvania counties, Planned Parenthood is the only subsidized family planning provider, so the idea that the patients can be sent somewhere else is both ludicrous and dangerous. But in the right-wing war on Planned Parenthood, the tens of thousands of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood for affordable family planning and reproductive healthcare are just collateral damage.

 

TAKE ACTION ONE STEP AT A TIME

FIND OUT who your state senator is here.

CALL your state senator and urge him or her to OPPOSE SB300.

SAMPLE SCRIPT I am your constituent, and I am contacting you to urge you to oppose SB300. Senate Bill 300 is an attack on the health and dignity of low-income women in Pennsylvania. With nearly half of Planned Parenthood’s medical centers in rural and underserved communities, passing SB300 would be crippling to the patients that need care the most.

FOLLOW UP your phone call with an email, if possible. If you are on social media, tweet and post to their Facebook page.

If you learn that your senator is already opposing SB300, please take a moment to THANK them for standing up for women of Pennsylvania.

BONUS ACTIONS

CONTACT members of the Senate Finance Committee, and urge them to oppose SB300.

SHARE this alert with your networks.

Thank you for supporting equality in Pennsylvania.

The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

Sign up for WLP’s Action Alerts here. Stay up to date on issues and policy by subscribing to our blog, following us on twitter and liking us on Facebook

We are a non-profit organization. Please consider supporting equal rights for women and girls by making a one-time donation or scheduling a monthly contribution.

Posted in #StandwithPP, Action Alert | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment