Canadian police departments are looking to Philadelphia to implement the city’s model for handling open rape cases. Led by the Women’s Law Project, the “Philadelphia Model” calls for advocacy groups such as Women Organized Against Rape, Support Center for Child Advocates, and Philadelphia Children Alliance to come together with detectives from the Special Victims Unit annually to take an in depth look at hundreds of open rape cases.
The Philadelphia Model came about in 1999 as a response to a Philadelphia Inquirer report that revealed the police department’s mishandling and downgrading of thousands of rape cases. The Police Commissioner at the time, John Timmoney, conducted an internal audit of the Special Victims Unit, and discovered that nearly a third of the rape complaints received were either dismissed or mishandled. After this discovery, the police department, some of our nonprofit partners, and other advocacy groups came together to review open and ‘unfounded’ cases. The advocacy groups instruct the department on how they can improve their handling of rape cases, as well as implement training programs, teach specific language to be used, and assist with securing funding for SVU headquarters to provide a place of support for victims and their families.
According to Carol Tracy, executive director of Women’s Law Project, “We are looking for victim blaming or gender bias. We are also looking to see if all of the witnesses have been interviewed.” Tracy also said they look for thorough evidence collection, such as if rape kits were properly completed and results were received.
Women’s Law Project’s website and policy report highlights some of the astounding progress made by this model, including a campaign to change the definition of rape in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting System that was successfully implemented in 2013.
This model has been an example for police departments both domestically and internationally. New York City has adopted what they call the “Timmoney Model,” and other police departments in the U.S. have taken parts of the model for their use. Several departments in Canada have already adopted the model or are in progress of hosting sessions to begin implementing it.