News / USA

Philadelphia Cracks Down on Domestic Violence

Police, shelters and advocacy groups team up

Every year in the United States, about 1.3 million women are abused by their husbands or boyfriends, according the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Every year in the United States, about 1.3 million women are abused by their husbands or boyfriends, according the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.


Matthew Petrillo

The Women Against Abuse shelter is the only refuge in Philadelphia for women escaping abusive relationships.

The building’s location is a secret - for safety reasons. Its clients, like Sheila Armstrong, are afraid for their lives after having to flee violent husbands or boyfriends.

“When he was beating me up, he picked up a vacuum cleaner, beating me with the vacuum cleaner," Armstrong says. "Waking up in the hospital, that is all I remember.”

Unfortunately, the situation Armstrong found herself in is not unique. Every year in the United States, about 1.3 million women are abused by their husbands or boyfriends, according the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Armstrong woke with a broken arm, two black eyes and a swollen lip. Without the Women Against Abuse shelter, Armstrong says she would have had nowhere to go.

“They do not call as their first option," shelter official Pamela Ellerman says. "They call us when they run out of options.”

Unfortunately, the facility can't help everyone who calls.

The shelter has 100 beds, where women stay, often with their children, while looking for a permanent safe place. But the shelter is turning away more women than ever, 7,800 this year.  Requests for help have increased since the economic recession began in 2008, even as state and local governments have cut funding for their services.

“We do not know what that means for the long-term," Ellerman says. "We are also well aware that what we are already providing is well inadequate to the need.”

To try to meet the need, Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey helped create a citywide program, partnering the shelter, the district attorney's office, and legal and advocacy groups in a coordinated effort to combat domestic violence.  The police department rewrote the forms used to document domestic abuse to gather more details and data, and officers now follow up with victims.  

“It is one of the most complicated crimes that we investigate, and the women's groups will tell you," Deputy Police Commissioner Patricia Giorgio-Fox says. "There is no easy answer to this.”

Giorgio-Fox says police receive thousands of calls a year from women, but making arrests is often difficult, usually due to a lack of evidence. Since the new partnership began this year, domestic-related arrests increased more than seven percent during the first six months of 2011.  

But Fox says police still need help from those being abused. “We can offer as much advice and counseling and help and alternatives as possible.  But until the victim decides it is time, it is very difficult to correct that kind of behavior.”

Sheila Armstrong, who is now on the board of Women Against Abuse, agrees. She says increasing public awareness about domestic violence is the best way to prevent abuse.

“I do not like the word ‘victims.’ Because most people want to look down and speak of you like a victim like you cannot handle yourself.”

Other U.S. cities are looking to Philadelphia’s approach as a model for reducing domestic violence. Meanwhile, advocates for survivors of domestic abuse are urging Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which expired at the end of September. During the past 15 years, the law has provided more than $4 billion for programs and legal help for survivors of domestic abuse.

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs