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Domestic Violence in Philadelphia

Domestic violence affects individuals from all backgrounds, genders and socioeconomic statuses. 

For many, however, domestic violence intersects with poverty, homelessness and job instability that significantly limits victim's abilities to escape abuse. 

In Philadelphia, lack of affordable housing, widespread poverty and high rates of community violence result in insurmountable obstacles for adults seeking long-term and sustainable safe living situations. Individuals experiencing domestic violence are also more likely to experience under- or unemployment due to the cycle of power and control implicated in domestic violence dynamics.

Employment and Domestic Violence

The impact of domestic violence, which may include physical, emotional and financial abuse, significantly limits a victim’s potential earning power. In one study assessing barriers to employment resulting from domestic violence, 85% of victims reported that their abuser kept them from sleeping; one-third reported that their abuser withheld transportation at the last minute; and one-third were beaten to the point that they could not work.


Poverty and Domestic Violence

Although domestic violence impacts individuals from all backgrounds, the need for domestic violence services in Philadelphia, the poorest major city in the country, is particularly pronounced. Poverty disproportionately impacts minorities, single mothers and children — compared with a citywide poverty rate of 27%, 31% of African Americans, 41% of Hispanics, half of single mothers, and one in three children live in poverty. Abused individuals in poverty experience the greatest difficulty in gathering the resources to seek safety.


Housing and Domestic Violence

With limited financial resources, victims are forced to navigate difficult choices, particularly if they have children. Often, the only alternative to abuse is homelessness. On an average night, 250 homeless individuals in Philadelphia self-report as victims of domestic violence.


Trauma and Domestic Violence

Victims of domestic violence face elevated risk of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, which in turn harm quality of life and ability to carry out everyday activities. Children are also impacted significantly by domestic violence. Infants, for example, may have disrupted sleeping and eating patterns and may not develop healthy attachments to their parents. Toddlers may exhibit excessive fearfulness, difficulty paying attention, stomachaches, nightmares, and bed-wetting. As they grow up, children are more likely to struggle with depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, and as adolescents, they are more likely to become victims or perpetrators of dating violence. Early trauma-informed intervention for children is crucial to prevent the cycle of abuse.


Due to fear, isolation and stigma, victims may only come into contact with city systems and domestic violence service providers once violence has reached a crisis point — when interventions are costliest and least effective. Early intervention and prevention, in addition to emergency measures, make up a critical component of the continuum of services that Women Against Abuse offers.



Mounting Turn-Aways

Philadelphia has only one emergency shelter -- Women Against Abuse's safe haven -- dedicated to the needs of women and children made homeless by domestic violence. This 100-bed safe haven provides safety and supportive services to approximately 580 individuals each year. Despite operating at full capacity throughout the year, Women Against Abuse's safe haven cannot meet the citywide demand for safety from abuse. Consequently, Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline counselors, who coordinate intake to WAA's safe haven, are frequently forced to turn victims away due to lack of beds.

As reported in a City Paper article (“Trend of Disbelief” by Holly Otterbein), WAA’s emergency safe haven reported alarming increases in the number of requests turned away in recent years. Last year, this figure reached an all-time high as 8,910 requests for safety in WAA's safe haven were turned away due to lack of space.

*Data for 2008 represents a calendar year whereas all other data are based on a fiscal year.

Hotline counselors survey capacity and ensure to the best of their ability that all requests for safe haven are accommodated. When the safe haven is full, counselors work with shelters throughout the city and domestic violence shelters in neighboring counties to help victims find safety.


Calls for Help

In fiscal year 2012, 8,535 individuals called the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance with domestic violence issues.

In 2012, 107,093 reports were filed by the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) for domestic violence incidents – nearly 300 per day. 5,568 domestic violence-related arrests were made.


Limited Space

Philadelphia has a lower number of domestic violence shelter beds in proportion to its population compared to nearby cities.

  • Washington, D.C.
    • 96 beds for victims of domestic violence
    • population of 618,000 people
    • ratio of 16 beds per 100,000
  • Baltimore
    • 67 beds
    • 621,000 people
    • 11 beds per 100,000
  • Pittsburgh
    • 36 beds
    • 306,000 people
    • 12 beds per 100,000
  • Philadelphia
    • 100 beds
    • 1.5 million people
    • 6 beds per 100,000


Domestic Violence Homicides

In the past six years, there have been an average of 28 homicides each year in Philadelphia.

  • 2007: 30
  • 2008: 21
  • 2009: 36
  • 2010: 30
  • 2011: 24
  • 2012: 24
  • 2013: 17

To address the jump in domestic violence homicides in 2009, WAA collaborated with Women's Law Project, the Philadelphia Police Department and key community partners to ensure that high-risk victims of domestic violence receive follow-up support after a critical incident. Read more about this initiative here.


Philadelphia Family Court

In 2011, 11,714 petitions for Protection From Abuse Orders were filed.