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Women Against Abuse recites during its 15th annual iPledge Campaign. Photo: Eliot Olaya/AL DÍA News.
Women Against Abuse recites during its 15th annual iPledge Campaign. Photo: Eliot Olaya/AL DÍA News.

Philadelphia community “takes the lead” in ending domestic violence

Women Against Abuse launches its 15th annual iPledge Campaign, calling on community involvement in the fight toward ending domestic violence.

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In the days leading up to Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Philadelphia, Women Against Abuse launched its 15th annual iPledge® campaign.

At the Philadelphia City Hall courtyard on Wednesday, Sept. 28, Philadelphia’s largest domestic violence provider, held an event hosted by Iola Harper, nationally recognized, award-winning advocate for small businesses and urban neighborhoods, and senior executive vice president of The Enterprise Center, as part of a continued effort to end domestic violence. 

“The 2022 campaign, Take the Lead, will be a call to action against social justice, inviting people to envision a world where domestic violence does not exist,” said Harper. 

Joanna Otero-Cruz, executive director and president of Women Against Abuse, noted that the call to action has never been more needed, “because the current climate has been extremely difficult.”

“The epidemic of gun violence plaguing our neighborhoods has reached unprecedented levels, with seemingly no end in sight. Domestic violence homicides reached an all-time high last year,” she said.

Joanna Otero-Cruz, executive and president of Women Against Abuse. Photo: Eliot Olaya/AL DÍA News.
Joanna Otero-Cruz, executive and president of Women Against Abuse. Photo: Eliot Olaya/AL DÍA News.

Otero-Cruz also noted the overturning of Roe v. Wade has been another recent hurdle.

“At Women Against Abuse, we have been intentional in taking care of ourselves and one another. As we double down on our commitment to being a voice for clients whose voices have been ignored in silence for way too long,” she added. 

With the increase of violence in the city, Mayor Jim Kenney stressed the value of working together to help address the issue.

“By working together we can overcome the threat of domestic violence and improve the quality of life for every member of our beloved city,” said Mayor Kenney. 

Since the organization's inception over 45 years ago, its mission has been to provide quality, compassionate and nonjudgmental services in a manner that fosters self-respect and independence in individuals experiencing intimate partner violence, and lead the fight to end domestic violence through advocacy and community education.

During the event, a visionary and longtime leader for gender rights was honored. Carol Tracy, who is the co-founder of Women Against Abuse, was presented with the 2022 Social Impact Award.

As she accepted the honor, Tracy took us back to her journey, which began in 1976, the year she met the individuals who would become co-founders of the organization.

She noted that it was a time when domestic violence was a private matter, “when people did not respond, when public health did not respond.”

“But these women started answering the phone in a little women's center and the calls that they were getting were all about women who were desperate to get away from abusive situations in their homes,” said Tracy.

At the time, Tracy was running an organization called the Bicentennial Women’s Center. Soon thereafter, she created a network and later was awarded a $40,000 grant to open the first shelter for domestic violence victims.

“Within five days, there were people sleeping on the floor, it was so overcrowded,” said Tracy.

“And that is when we understood the depth of the need and the depth of the problem,” she added. 

Carol Tracy was presented with the 2022 iPledge Social Impact Award. Photo: Eliot Olaya/AL DÍA News.
Carol Tracy was presented with the 2022 iPledge Social Impact Award. Photo: Eliot Olaya/AL DÍA News.

While she was the director of the Women’s Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Tracy was walking along Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia, and saw a big empty building, and made a call to Women Against Abuse. 

A person who owned the building reached out, Women Against Abuse made an offer, “got the building, by the way, for $1,” said Tracy, and then raised $400,000 to renovate the building. 

Fast forward to today, and Women Against Abuse is one of the largest domestic violence service providers in the nation, providing housing, counseling, resources, legal help, and much more.

“I am so proud that I have played even the most minimal role in this wonderful organization,” said Tracy. 

She closed her speech by thanking past and present Women Against Abuse staff, partnering organizations, as well as the domestic violence community filled with individuals who are constantly fighting for women’s rights. 

Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes also provided remarks, sharing that he is advocating to help further this fight by way of “a financial nature.” 

He also stressed the importance of ensuring that the pledge goes beyond this moment, and is also shared with individuals in all portions of the city.

“We need you to be that voice,” said Sen. Hughes. “Please speak up… and make sure that the folks who need to hear this know where the light is, that they know that they can move towards the light to get the help that they deserve to have.” 

Candace Shillingford is a domestic violence survivor who shared her story. She shared that after decades in that situation, she now knows what freedom looks like.

“It’s the ability to be creative, to love myself, to be okay with my decisions, and to live a life full of joy rather than trauma,” she said. 

The event ended with a group citation of the pledge, led by John Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. 

You can take the pledge by visiting ipledgeWAA.org

People experiencing domestic violence can also call the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-866-723-3014

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