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Domestic Violence Assistance Project

The Women’s Law Project, in cooperation with Philadelphia Legal Assistance, developed a new initiative with the Philadelphia Family and Municipal Courts to help individuals seeking filing Protection from Abuse orders understand the and complete the legal process petitions prepare more effectively for their hearings.

Launched in January 2008, the Domestic Violence Assistance Project (DVAP) was conceptualized after a WLP analysis showed that, compared to all other counties in the state, Philadelphia had a dramatically lower percentage of petitions for Protection from Abuse that resulted in protection orders. Statistics indicated that approximately 64% of petitioners seeking orders annually drop out of the legal process before obtaining protective orders for undocumented reasons, suggesting that something in the system is radically wrong.

Additional statistics in the analysis revealed that, between 2000 and 2006, the percentage of cases resulting in a court-issued orders decreased from 35.6% to 28%. During the same period, the number of petitions dismissed or withdrawn increased from 57.7% in 2000 to 65.3% in 2006.

Through its outreach component, the DVAP program supports petitioners with valuable information and resource material, but it will also shed light on obstacles petitioners face in the protection from abuse process so action can be taken to address these barriers.

Trained WLP volunteers staff protection order filing sites in Philadelphia, providing information on the legal process and safety planning. Volunteers with the WLP Telephone Counseling and Consumer Education Service subsequently follow up with petitioners who seek additional support as they move through the judicial process. WLP counselors can discuss information and referrals related to child support, custody and mental health, health or substance abuse concerns. The WLP tracks and analyzes data to determine project effectiveness and to identify ways the Protection from Abuse process can be more user-friendly.