'The Philadelphia Model' of how to handle rape cases, now international

Kristen Johanson
December 23, 2018 - 4:46 pm
Police departments in Canada are adopting what has come to be known as the Philadelphia Model as a way to handle open rape cases.

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Police departments in Canada are adopting what has come to be known as "the Philadelphia Model" as a way to handle open rape cases based on what was started in Philadelphia two decades ago.

A few days every year, the Women's Law Project, Women Organized Against Rape and the Child Advocacy Center sit with detectives from the Special Victims Unit and comb through nearly 500 open or unfounded rape cases, asking questions about each one.

"We are looking for victim blaming or gender bias. We are also looking to see if all of the witnesses have been interviewed," said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women's Law Project and one of the founders of the Philadelphia Model. 

"We are looking to see if all the evidence has been collected. We are looking to see in the event a forensic exam, a rape kit was done, if it was sent for processing, and if the results were back," Tracy said. 

The idea spurred following a 1999 Philadelphia Inquirer report about the mishandling of rape cases in the city. 

Then-Police Commissioner John Timmoney decided to conduct his own internal investigation into the Special Victims Unit, and found nearly a third of the complaints were dismissed or mishandled.

"They may well have had a rape kit, but didn't send it for full analysis, didn't interview witnesses, made decisions because the persons interviewed may not have conformed to how they thought a rape victim should behave," said Tracy.

"The police aired their dirty laundry. They came forward, they were very transparent in saying, 'we have done things incorrectly here and we are going to change,'" she added.  

Tracy and Timmoney teamed up, along with other advocacy groups, and began to review hundreds of cases, open and those deemed 'unfounded.' She says at first, the conference was adversarial, but now, it's become a partnership. 

"We don't go in there to tell them what they are doing wrong. We were asked to come in and tell them how to improve what they are doing," she explained. 

The advocates also help with training and specific language used. They have also assisted with getting funding for their headquarters, making it a more comfortable, clean setting for victims and their families.

"I think the work is hard. I don't think the resources are adequate for the severity of this crime," she said. "I think Philadelphia is trying, and I think we have come to understand that mistakes will be made."

The initiative has been so successful it's been adopted by New York City and several departments in Canada.

The New York City Police Department has also implemented what they call 'the Timmoney Model,' with other police departments across the country pulling some of the method for their own usage.