A day filled with meetings and telephone calls sounds like a typical day at the office. But for Carol E. Tracy a typical day is likely to include an unexpected crisis that demands her immediate attention, like a woman having trouble accessing abortion services or a woman facing the dangers of domestic violence. It is then that Tracy is called into action.
As executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a national leader in the field of women’s rights, Tracy is at the forefront of preserving and protecting the rights of women through litigation, public education and policy development.
“Gender discrimination is still pervasive,” said Tracy, a Temple law school alumni, who believes that the struggle for equality calls for massive social changes.
This past year the WLP enjoyed a major victory in the U.S. Supreme Court protecting the autonomy and health of pregnant women. The organization also helped bring about sweeping changes in the way the Philadelphia Police Department responds to victims of sexual assault, provided instrumental advice on polices to ensure the safety of battered women and collaborated with the public interest legal community to bring greater attention and resources to Family Court.
Being an advocate of women’s rights for more than 30 years, Tracy has seen vast social and legal reforms in women’s rights and remembers a time when violence against women was not a crime. But Tracy knows that the WLP has tireless work ahead as harassment, abuse and violence remain all too common in the lives of women.
“Violence against women is epidemic,” Tracy said. “FBI studies and other research consistently finds this to be true.”
In a 1998 joint survey, the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found evidence of the prevalence of violence against women.
According to the survey: One in six women have experienced an attempted or completed rape. Annually in the United States, approximately 1.9 million women are physically assaulted, which includes being pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped and hit, and approximately 1 million women are stalked.
The survey also found husbands, ex-husbands, dates and boyfriends commit the majority of these abuses.
“One of my students had been stalked by a boyfriend and did not realize it until we were talking about domestic violence,” Tracy recalled.
To educate women on their rights and options, the WLP also provides a Telephone Counseling and Consumer Education Service that provides callers with in-depth information on legal procedures, as well as supportive listening and practical information on issues from discrimination in education and employment to domestic violence.
Tracy says women can also find empowerment by sharing their experiences with other women.
“One of the earliest slogans of the women’s movement is that ‘personal is political,'” Tracy said. “Women’s personal experiences are extraordinary and are essential to organizing.”
Although Tracy describes her activism as “simultaneously frustrating and rewarding,” she considers herself lucky to be working on issues that she cares passionately about.