Ward keeps her eyes on the rutted dirt road as she drives
through the undulating mountain valleys of central Vermont
and into her past. She rounds a bend and there it is:
Beanville. Just a cluster of trailers and weathered
clapboard houses clinging to a hillside by a small stream,
a few miles up the road from tiny West Fairlee. "See
that?" Ward asks, chuckling, pointing to a hair-raisingly
steep slope. "My brother and I used to sled down that
on car hoods. The most dangerous thing you could imagine!"
a trucker turned lawyer, is heading north to counsel
a battered woman who, after years of abuse, is seeking
legal help. But on the way, she pauses to view the remains
of the homestead where she, too, once quaked with fear.
father would come in from the outhouse, drunk, demanding
to know why there wasn't any beer in the house, or anything
other than venison stew to eat," recalls Ward, a stocky,
energetic woman with an easy laugh and a stubborn refusal
to feel sorry for herself. Her mother, Ward remembers,
would stare into the pot she was stirring and mutter,
"Because you haven't worked in three weeks." Enraged,
Ward's father would throw his wife into the corner,
stick his knee in her stomach and start choking her.
don't call it choking anymore; they call it strangulation,"
Ward says matter-of-factly. "She'd get in a few screams
and all of us kids would come running." The children
would try to pry their father's hands from their mother's
throat, only to have his wrath vented on them: her brother
was beaten, and the girls were sexually abused.
was no phone and no one to call. The neighbors were
within earshot, "but when they heard screaming coming
from our house, they just turned their heads," Ward
says. "And when we heard screaming coming from the neighbors,
we turned our heads, too." Just three doors down, a
man shot his wife to death in front of their children
when Wynona was eight, and nobody thought much of it.
today, Vermont, known for its progressive politics and
pristine environment, has a chillingly high rate of
all-in-the-family brutality. More than 70 percent of
female murder victims are killed by their husbands,
ex-husbands, or boyfriends--over twice the national
average. For women who live on the back roads, with
unreliable cars, no telephones, and no money to hire
attorneys, there's often nowhere to turn. Wynona Ward
is determined to change that.
1998, after graduating from Vermont Law School, Ward
won a grant to start "Have Justice--Will Travel," a
law office on wheels. Today, in her four-wheel-drive
Dodge Ram Charger, Ward visits battered women who are
too isolated to get legal help and finds assistance
for their abused children. The vehicle is outfitted
with a CB radio, scanner, and cellular phone, as well
as a computer and printer--all equipped with batteries,
in the event a woman she is visiting has no electricity.
of making them come to an office with leather chairs,
where they have to wait for an appointment to say, 'Here
I am, shame on me, I just got beat up,' I come to them,"
says Ward, wearing casual black slacks and a houndstooth
jacket. "I sit in their chairs, at their kitchen table,
and listen to their stories.
even if it's not perfectly clean or the Trump mansion,
I'm comfortable there," she says with a smile that lights
up her open, friendly face. "I grew up in a poor household.
They understand that. And if they don't, I tell them."
Today she's visiting Sandy (all names of Ward's clients
have been changed), a 32-year-old administrative assistant
and mother who recently divorced her husband after 12
years of abuse. Sandy is outwardly upbeat, funny, and
sure of herself. The bruises on her face have faded,
her fractured wrist has healed, and once-missing clumps
of hair have grown back. But there's still a hairline
fracture on Sandy's nose where her former husband broke
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