More Great Thoughts: Wynona Ward

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(Host) As VPR’s occasional exploration of the Great Thoughts of Vermont continues, commentator Cheryl Hanna introduces us to Winona Ward, a Vermonter whose innovative idea is helping to end the cycle of domestic abuse.

(Hanna) Let me tell you a story about a woman and her truck: Wynona Ward was born and raised in rural Vermont, and her family, like many others, was deeply affected by domestic abuse. Ward’s father abused her and her siblings. Yet the worst part, she says, was witnessing her father beat her mother.

It was shameful and yet all too acceptable at the time; so the family stayed silent, and her mother stayed in the marriage.

Ward moved on. She married her husband Harold, and the two worked as truck drivers for almost twenty years. Then one day she got a call that her brother had abused a little girl in the family.

It was then that Ward decided she had to do something to break the cycle of abuse that can affect families for generations. Ward worked to get her brother convicted and to keep him in jail. Afterwards, the prosecutor suggested Ward go to law school. Ward studied in the back of their truck and earned her college and eventually her law degree, determined to make a difference.

Ward recognized that women in rural areas need a different model of legal services from ones that had been developed in more populated areas. A rural woman may live thirty miles from a courthouse and have no way of getting there. And a restraining order is just a piece of paper. To really break the cycle of violence, she needs support to rebuild her life, which can be hard to do when you’re isolated on a back road in the dead of winter.

Women need transportation and affordable legal services, but they also need advocates who understand the cycle of abuse and how it plays out in rural culture.

I remember talking to Ward eight years ago as she was sketching out her vision for delivering legal services to victims in their homes. She would make house calls — which no one, anywhere, was doing.

“So you’d talk with women while sitting in their living rooms?” I asked.
“Cheryl,” she replied, “Real Vermonters know that you don’t sit in the living room; you sit in the kitchen.”

Ward received a fellowship for her innovative idea and founded Have Justice Will Travel. Today, four lawyers and a support staff provide an array of services to abused women in Vermont, from filing custody papers to fixing the furnace.

Ward understands that it’s not enough for lawyers to only do the legal nitty gritty. Rather, you do whatever it takes to ensure that the victim stays safe and doesn’t have to return to her abuser out of necessity.

Ward’s approach is being replicated in rural communities across the country. If her initial success is any indication, it won’t be long before lawyers across rural America will hop in their trucks to deliver justice to women at their kitchen tables, too. Have Justice Will Travel is fundamentally changing how we deliver legal services to victims of abuse.

This is Cheryl Hanna.

Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.

Have Justice Will Travel can be reached at (877) 496-1800, (802) 685-7809 or

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