Veteran Philadelphia lawyer Deborah Harley is no stranger to navigating cases of sexual violence. Now, she is bringing her expertise to Penn.
Starting this semester, Harley will take on the role of sexual violence investigative officer, in which she will oversee all complaints of sexual violence pertaining to the University.
“We’re still ordering furniture,” she said of her new office at 3901 Walnut St. Even in the sparse office, Harley is all business, with a marbled nameplate that would look more at home in a wood-paneled law firm.
Harley’s job covers all aspects of complaints against the University — a Drexel student could even complain about a Penn student, she explained — and determine whether the situation falls under the University’s Sexual Violence, Relationship Violence and Stalking Policy. When she makes that determination from an initial interview with both the complainant and the respondent, an investigation can begin.
If, however, Harley determines that a complaint does not fall under the University’s specified policies, no further investigations have to be pursued.
Harley took over the relatively new position from Christopher Mallios, who was named the first sexual violence investigative officer last January. When Mallios was elected as a district court judge in November, Harley took over his duties. All open cases he was working on were transferred to her in their current state.
Harley said she sees her post at Penn as “an extension” of the work that she was doing on a number of different domestic and sexual violence task forces within the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, especially in her collaboration with other departments and agencies to enact change. While on the Mayor’s Task Force on Domestic Violence, she worked with police, courts, advocacy organizations, as well as Penn and Villanova University.
One of their accomplishments was making police reports for domestic violence victims more accessible and free if victims needed them to get out of a rent contract or be relocated. When Harley worked on the Philadelphia Sexual Assault Advisory Council, her team spearheaded the creation of a sexual violence crisis center to help victims avoid long wait times at hospitals, working closely with Women Organizing Against Rape.
“When you collaborate with other agencies you can address problems more effectively,” she said. “If not all the right people are at the table it’s harder to solve them.”
As a trial lawyer for domestic and sexual violence cases for nine years, and another nine years as a supervisor, Harley said she has plenty of experience “working to do the right thing” in these complicated cases.
Harley also affirmed Penn’s role in dealing with instances of sexual violence that occur on campus.
“The college has a duty to students and faculty to adhere to its high moral standards,” she said. “Penn wants to get it right.”
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