Restoring hope with dignity

Our History

josephjpeters headshot


In the early 1950s, Joseph J. Peters, MD, a psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, was well known in the field of group psychotherapy, having established group psychotherapy treatment in various settings that were novel at the time, such as a school for truant boys and at the Devereux Schools. Due in part to his reputation in group psychotherapy and other treatments, in 1955, Anthony Croce, a probation and parole officer for Philadelphia's Quarter Sessions Court, contacted Dr. Peters to see whether he would be willing to develop a group psychotherapy treatment program for men who had been committed to prison for sexual crimes and were being released to the community on probation. At the outpatient neuropsychiatric clinic on the first floor of the Mills Building at Philadelphia General Hospital, Dr. Peters assembled a small group of psychiatrists and together they began to provide group psychotherapy for these men. In 1961, a training program for psychiatrists was started and in 1966, under the auspices of a grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), research into the effectiveness of the center's treatment began in concert with Dr. Marvin Wolfgang, the Director of the Center for Studies in Criminology and Criminal Law at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1968, the organization was chartered by the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health as the Institute 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 1968, the Center also began serving survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse and in 1970 was renamed the Center for Rape Concern, a name that reflected its focus on serving both survivors of sexual abuse and offenders. In 1973, the Center embarked on a three-year comprehensive study of victims of rape and sexual assault, called the Philadelphia Assault Victims Study, which was also funded by NIMH.

Unfortunately, in 1976, Dr. Peters became ill and shortly thereafter, passed away. That same year, the City of Philadelphia announced that Philadelphia General Hospital, the organization's home (which had been in existence in one form or another for over 200 years) would be closing. The organization was at a crisis point: staff had to determine how they would carry on without their founder and leader and also needed to find a new home for the organization. Although one or more large institutions were interested in potentially absorbing the Center, a few staff members, led by Dr. Linda M. Williams, made a decision to incorporate as a separate non-profit organization in order to independently continue the work of Dr. Peters and his colleagues.


The organization incorporated as the Center for Rape Concern on June 3rd, 1977. Later that year, the newly formed non-profit 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, a ceremony was held and the organization was re-named Joseph J. Peters Institute (JJPI)

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 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. The next few years were a period of steady growth for JJPI, and the team grew to include a number of psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals.

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 for identifying and responding to child sexual abuse. In 1986, JJPI started a treatment program for inmates with a history of sexual offending at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Graterford Prison (now SCI Phoenix), 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.

During the 1990s, JJPI continued to build its reputation in the areas of training, research, 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 2000, JJPI expanded its prevention efforts through the implementation of the "Stop it Now!" sexual abuse awareness and prevention program in Philadelphia and its suburbs. 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 from 260 South Broad Street 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 (later re-named "Safety and Responsibility Services") were consolidated at 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. Beginning in 2017, JJPI increased its focus on providing services at additional locations in the community, often through securing competitive state and federal funding and partnering with other organizations. Detailed information about current and former community-based partnerships can be found here

JJPI remains proud of Dr. Peters' legacy and we look forward to continuing to evolve to meet the needs of the participants and the communities of the greater Philadelphia area.