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credits Ward for giving her the confidence to leave.
"One of the first things you did, well, it wasn't something
you wrote on a legal pad," she says, looking fondly
at Ward. "You hugged me. I was just so embarrassed.
And you made me feel welcome." But without Ward's free
legal help, Sandy says, "I wouldn't have been able to
a population of just under 600,000, the state has only
five part-time attorneys--partially funded by the federal
Violence Against Women Act--who work exclusively with
victims of domestic violence. Consequently, many battered
women go into court--seeking a relief-from-abuse order,
a divorce, or custody of their children--without legal
representation. Their husbands or boyfriends are more
often able to afford an attorney. Clients are usually
referred to Ward through Safeline, a local hotline and
maintains a small, filled-to-the-rafters office
at the Vermont Law School's community legal clinic.
But going to her clients instead of having them
come to her is more practical: women keep their
files, such as they are, tucked into drawers at
home. And by being "on site," Ward can easily
check to see if there's a neglected medical condition
or no food or heat in the house. "If the kids
don't have hats and mittens, I know people who
compounds her clients' problems. One third of them lack
phones, because, in a state as sparsely populated as
Vermont, the cost of maintaining telephone lines across
long distances results in staggeringly high monthly
rates. And though most families have a car, "it may
go to work with the batterer," says Judy Szeg of Safeline.
isolation is also about lack of skills and hope. Sometimes
Ward helps clients get a high-school equivalency diploma
or a job. Other times it's as simple as working up a
budget to pay off debt that an abuser has accumulated
over the years. Perhaps the best measure of Ward's success
is that so few of her clients have returned to their
batterers or entered other abusive relationships. "Don't
let him frighten you," she tells a client whose ex-husband
has threatened to take the kids. Rhonda, a tiny, birdlike
woman who's determined to appear cheerful, is clearly
rattled. "There's nothing he can do," Ward tells her,
giving her a bear hug. Rhonda's eyes are troubled, but
she breathes deeply and promises to keep in touch.
never intended to become a "domestic violence road warrior,"
as the American Bar Association has dubbed her. For
17 years, she and her husband, Harold, were big-rig
truckers. Ward got her college degree by mail, writing
papers on a laptop in the sleeper of their 18-wheel
Diamond Reo, while Harold drove through the night.
her childhood abuse haunted her. At truck stops, weigh
stations, on the CB radio, "there wasn't anybody I talked
to who wasn't dealing with it, directly or indirectly,"
she says. In the sleeper, between shifts, she started
reading about incest, child abuse, and domestic violence--and
finally faced the fear and shame that had twisted her
that legacy wasn't just a specter from the past. In
1991, her sisters paged her on the road. Her brother,
Richard, had raped a child in the family, and after
two years of holding back, the girl told a counselor
about it. "My God it's happening again," Ward breathed.
The youngster had already been molested by Ward's father
when she was three--the same age Ward was when he began
raping her. Prosecutors felt then that the girl was
too young to testify. But now Ward and her three sisters
stood firm. "We did for her what wasn't done for the
rest of us," she says. "We told her we believed her.
And we told her it was important that she come forward."
turned out that Richard had already sexually molested
two other little girls. "In Richie's case, he was just
living up to his father's expectations," says Harold
angrily, sitting at the couple's kitchen table in Vershire,
Vermont. "He was expected to grow up to be a child abuser.
It was like putting a goddamned deer head on the wall.
It was a trophy."
Ward put the brakes on her cross-country trucking until
she made sure that her brother was safely behind bars.
"Please get treatment," she wrote him in prison. Despite
his refusal, the state parole board announced it wanted
to release him after two years.
so Ward led the charge to stop that from happening.
wrote a 15-page report to the parole board arguing that
it was misinterpreting state law. Faxed press releases
to newspapers and television stations urging them to
attend the hearing. And brought photographs of the little
girl to make her point in human terms.
is the child that he has abused," Ward told the board.
"When she was three years old, she was abused by her
grandfather. When she was six, she was sexually assaulted
by her uncle. When she was nine, she had to testify
in court. Now she's 12. What am I supposed to tell her
is going to happen to her when she's 15?" Anger flickers
in her eyes: "I'll tell you what happened," Ward says,
her foot on the accelerator as she recalls how, despite
a successful campaign with the parole board, the girl,
at age 16, had to face her abuser again, when he was
given a furlough to attend a family funeral. Ward is
lost in thought for a minute, then resumes. "But that
is a lot of why I'm doing what I'm doing. The legal
system is really hard on victims. They get victimized
again and again." That experience convinced Ward to
enroll in law school, where she focused on family law
and won a bevy of awards, including the 1998 Outstanding
Law Student of the Year from Who's Who in American Law
Banks, Ward's supervising attorney at the clinic, points
out, "Wynona brings something to the equation that's
unique, something that, even if I tried my hardest,
I couldn't do. She says to the women: 'I have been where
you are, and I have gotten out. Walk beside me and I
will help you get out.'" Today, she's as concerned about
how to keep the aging Ram Charger on the road as she
is about keeping her work on course. Her original grant
runs out next September. Ward is hoping to raise enough
money to hire another attorney and a secretary.
she never wants to lose the personal touch. "I don't
feel that I'll burn out the way other people do," she
says. "Because, let's face it, this is my life."
Jetter is the coeditor of "The Politics of Motherhood:
Activist Voices from Left to Right" (Dartmouth College).
BY ALLAN PENN
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