The Women’s Law Project and the Philadelphia Police Department
Currently, we co-chair Philadelphia’s Domestic Violence Law Enforcement Committee, which has supported a reorganization of the Philadelphia police department’s response to domestic violence. While in that role, the Women’s Law Project, along with Women Against Abuse, has secured $4 million from the Office on Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice to improve law enforcement’s response to domestic violence in Philadelphia. The focus of the Domestic Violence Law Enforcement Committee is expanding and coordinating law enforcement services for victims of domestic violence, and identifying gaps in existing services.
Our Work with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW)
For the last decade, the Women’s Law Project has assisted the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) in providing flexibility and confidentiality to survivors of domestic violence on welfare through implementation of the federal Family Violence Option (FVO). Through participation on DPW’s TANF/Domestic Violence Task Force, we provide extensive input into the state policies and procedures that provide domestic violence victims with referrals for services, confidential disclosure of domestic violence and location information, and when necessary, waivers of program requirements that have potential to place a victim of domestic violence and her family at risk of further violence or penalty.
Our Work in Reforming the Insurance Industry
The Women’s Law Project played a key role in eliminating discrimination against domestic violence victims in the insurance industry. Years ago, a Pennsylvania woman approached us and the Pennsylvania Coalition for Domestic Violence for help after she was denied health, life, and mortgage disability insurance by two different companies because she reported to her doctor that she had been abused by her husband.
After reviewing her case, we conducted research and found discrimination against domestic violence victims by the insurance industry was widespread. Our investigation revealed that insurance companies used medical records and insurance databases to deny insurance altogether, charge increased premiums, cancel coverage, and refuse to pay claims of domestic violence survivors. In some cases, insurance companies refused to provide group coverage for a business if any employees had a documented history of domestic violence. After this discovery, we played a key role in eliminating discrimination against domestic violence survivors by the insurance industry. So far, 45 states and D.C. have passed legislation that prohibits insurers from using a history of domestic violence to inform coverage.
Our Legislative Work
Currently, we support legislation designed to eliminate unnecessary barriers to safely escaping intimate partner violence. One financial penalty survivors seeking safety shouldn’t need to pay is early termination fees with cell phone accounts tethered to their abuser, a connection that leaves a victim vulnerable to stalking and surveillance. We also advocate for legislation that would enable certain victims to avoid paying a fee for breaking a rental lease, if the tenant is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault and/or stalking.
Telephone Counseling Service
For the past 25 years, the Women’s Law Project’s Telephone Counseling & Referral Service has provided information and counseling to untold numbers of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Domestic violence accounts for the highest number of calls to the service; many seek assistance securing protection from abuse and ask for help concerning adverse employment and housing actions resulting from domestic violence. This kind of assistance is vital in a city like Philadelphia, where deep poverty and a lack of resources means 90 percent of women entering family court do so without professional representation.