Executive Director Jane E. Graham Jennings Reflects on 20 Years with The Women’s Community

Written by Jane E. Graham Jennings

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this year I also celebrate 20 years as the Director of The Women’s Community in Wausau. I continue to be asked what has changed in 20 years — if we really still need a Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Unfortunately, domestic violence surrounds us.

It affects every person in this community.

It is lethal.

Over the last 20 years, we have lost 16 community members as a result of domestic violence. Sixteen lives lost because abusive men felt entitled to harm others. I have sat with the loved ones of most of these tragedies and helped hold their pain, as that is all I can do when faced with such overwhelming disbelief and sorrow. None of them ever imagined they would be in such a situation. They wonder what they could have done, what the community could have done.

This is why Domestic Violence Awareness Month is still relevant and still necessary.

As I reflect over the past 20 years, I remember the pain of loss, but I also remember the glory of survival. The Women’s Community has served thousands of individuals in my tenure. We have seen the transformation of thousands of lives — from women feeling that they are worthless and unlovable to becoming women who stand confidently and know the value they bring to the world. While there is still much work to do to keep victims in our community safe and unashamed, there are many positive things that have been done to address domestic violence.

  • We’ve raised the number of advocates available to support victims — from 11 full-time and 7 part-time to 18 full-time and 9 part-time.
  • We’ve increased special population programming, including Southeast Asian Advocate Program (3 full-time Hmong advocates), Abuse in Later Life Program (2 full-time advocates), and Latinx Program to serve the Spanish-speaking community.
  • We established a prevention education curriculum and provide it twice a year in Wausau School District Health classes.
  • We created the PAWS program to help house pets of victims when they wanted to leave an abusive home but wouldn’t leave without knowing their pets would be safe.
  • State statutes were established to provide for victim/advocate privileged communication and a victim’s right to have an advocate accompany them because of increased understanding of the complexity of domestic violence and the need for support.
  • Law enforcement recruit academies now require 16 hours of training on responding to domestic violence, 12 hours on sexual assault, and 4 hours on victims.
  • Domestic violence is now recognized as a factor in the long-term health of individuals (and the community) and not an “acute” problem.
  • Investigative strategies for arresting the predominant aggressor so that victims are not arrested were put into State Statute.
  • Stalking and Strangulation/Suffocation became felony crimes.
  • Health-care providers began regular screening for domestic violence.
  • We helped to establish a Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART): a partnership between The Women’s Community, local law enforcement, and the District Attorney’s Office to provide specialized follow-up services after a domestic abuse arrest.
  • We increased our shelter capacity from 28 to 40 people.
  • With the support of the community, we built a facility designed specifically to support victims of abuse.

There are many other examples of the positive changes I’ve seen over the last 20 years, but the need for more awareness continues.

The Women's Community - old building
The Women’s Community shelter located at 2801 N 7th Street (1995–2012). One of several sites over the organization’s 40-year history. (Photo courtesy of Jane E. Graham Jennings.)
The Women’s Community newest custom-built shelter, located at 3200 Hilltop Avenue, Wausau. (Photo courtesy of Jane E. Graham Jennings.)

When I first started working at The Women’s Community, I used to say,

“I want to work myself out of a job — to create a day when The Women’s Community is no longer needed.”

People told me I was crazy and that there would always be abuse. And while it is 20 years later and I am still fighting many of the same battles, I still believe that we can do better.

We can create a community where abuse is not accepted. We can support victims and hold perpetrators accountable. We can get the help to victims for safety and the help to perpetrators that they need to want to change their behavior.

And that will take all of us.

I honor and value so deeply the trust the community has given me in this role; the trust to be a good steward of the financial support you provide and the trust to support and advocate for survivors — until that day I am no longer needed.

Thank you for your support of my work the past 20 years at The Women’s Community.

Phyllis Jackie Mary Jane
First director Phillis Bermingham, founding members Jackie Turke and Mary Turnquist, and current director Jane E. Graham Jennings. (Photo courtesy of Jane E. Graham Jennings.)

The Women’s Community:

We Listen.  We Support.  We Transform Lives.

Jane_E._Graham_JenningsJane E. Graham Jennings

Executive Director  |  The Women’s Community, Inc.

Jane E. Graham Jennings has worked at The Women’s Community for over 20 years serving in the role of Executive Director for all but 3 of those years. Jane has dedicated her life to giving voice to those who feel voiceless due to various forms of violence and oppression. She started her career of anti-violence work in college, where she earned a degree in Psychology. She has been certified through the Department of Justice as a Law Enforcement trainer to train officers on understanding victims of domestic and sexual violence. She was appointed by Governor Walker to serve on the statewide Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. She was also appointed by Attorney General Brad Schimel to serve on the Wisconsin Crime Victims’ Rights Board. In her spare time, she enjoys outdoors activities — particularly hunting and fishing — with her husband, Chris, and their hunting dog, Rocket.  Email Jane E. Graham Jennings.

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