Restoring hope with dignity

Our History

jjp headshotIn 1955, Anthony Croce, a probation and parole officer for Philadelphia's Quarter Sessions Court, approached Dr. Joseph Peters, a psychiatrist and associate clinical professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, to see whether he would be willing to provide treatment for men who had been committed to prison for sexual crimes and were ready to be released to the community. At Philadelphia General Hospital, where Dr. Peters practiced, he assembled a small group of psychiatrists and together they began to provide group psychotherapy for these men. As the program grew, it became known as the Center for Sexual Deviance.

By the late 1950s and early 1960s Dr. Peters was seeing an increasing number of survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse in his private practice. Through this work, he began to understand the profound impact that these traumatic experiences often had. In line with his personal interest in this area of practice, starting in 1965, the Center also began serving survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse and in 1970, services for survivors were significantly expanded through federal grant funding. In the early 1970s, the Center embarked on perhaps the first comprehensive study of victims of rape and sexual assault, the Philadelphia Assault Victims Study.

Unfortunately, in 1976, Dr. Peters became ill and shortly thereafter, passed away. That same year, the City of Philadelphia announced that Philadelphia General Hospital, which had been in existence in one form or another for over 200 years, would be closing. Although other large institutions were interested in potentially absorbing the Center, a few staff members, led by Dr. Linda M. Williams, made the decision to incorporate as a separate non-profit organization in order to independently continue the work of Dr. Peters and his colleagues.

This led to the organization incorporating as the Center for Rape Concern, a name that better reflected its focus on serving both offenders and victims. In 1977, the newly formed organization hired its first CEO, Elaine Bencivengo, and moved to 160 South 16th Street in Center City Philadelphia. In 1979, in order to honor Dr. Peters, the organization was re-named the Joseph J. Peters Institute. Over the next few years, the JJPI team grew to include psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals.

During the early years of the newly independent organization, there was a focus on disseminating the expertise that had been developed by its staff since its founding. In 1979, the organization offered a series of three training courses, held over a period of six weeks at the University of Pennsylvania, on issues related to rape, child sexual abuse, and sexual offending.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, JJPI became well known for its national research and training grants and the development of specialized instruments for assessing individuals with sexual behavior problems, such as the Juvenile Sex Offender Assessment (J-SOAP). JJPI also gained recognition for its treatment programs for child and adult survivors of sexual abuse and for adults and juveniles with a history of sexual offending. 

In 1980, JJPI was designated by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect as one of five nationwide child sexual abuse treatment training institutes. This led to the development of the "Intrafamilial Child Sexual Abuse Train the Trainer Manual" in 1983, used by state and county-level organizations nationwide to develop multidisciplinary training programs on identifying and responding to child sexual abuse. In 1986, JJPI started a treatment program for offenders at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Graterford Prison, which ran successfully for over 15 years, and in 1989, when societal understanding of the problem of clergy sexual abuse was still in its infancy, JJPI and Pennsylvania Hospital co-sponsored a symposium for church administrators focused on identifying and preventing sexual abuse within religious organizations.

In 2000, JJPI significantly expanded its prevention services by implementing the "Stop it Now!" sexual abuse awareness and prevention program at the city-wide level. This was the first application of this population-based approach to sexual abuse prevention in a metropolitan area in the United States. In 2002, the Institute moved to 100 South Broad Street in Center City Philadelphia and in 2004, affiliated with Public Health Management Corporation. Shortly thereafter a second location was opened a few blocks away at 1211 Chestnut Street in order to provide dedicated space for the provision of services for adults with sexual behavior problems and to house a new partial hospitalization program. In 2012, all services for survivors of sexual abuse were brought under one roof at 100 S. Broad Street, and all services for individuals with a history of sexual offending (re-named "Safety and Responsibility Services") were moved to 1211 Chestnut Street.

Although JJPI had traditionally worked only with survivors of sexual trauma at its Survivor Services Program, in 2013 the organization expanded its mission to serve individuals affected by a full range of traumatic experiences and in 2015, JJPI began providing treatment to those who engage in relational violence at its Safety & Responsibility Program.

As JJPI approaches its 65th anniversary, the organization remains proud of Dr. Peters' legacy and looks forward to continuing to evolve to meet the needs of its participants and the communities of the greater Philadelphia area.