In 2019, the Women’s Resource Center of Winona changed their name to Advocacy Center of Winona. The center’s services of helping victims/survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking have not changed. The name change reflects the center’s mission to be more inclusive in the constituents they serve – cis men, cis women, trans and non-binary folks.
The Center’s original mission was “The Women’s Resource Center of Winona functions to create a reality which recognizes the value and equality of women in all aspects of life, including economic independence, freedom from violence, and equal access to and power in the political process.”
When the ACW was established in 1978 as the Women’s Resource Center (WRC), there were no services for women who wanted to protect themselves and their children from a violent spouse and father, or for women who had been sexually assaulted. These were issues that just were not brought up in “polite conversation,” and few if any professionals in the criminal justice or health care systems had any knowledge of, training for, or, often, sensitivity to the needs of these women. Typically, these women were also burdened with the stigma of having somehow brought these troubles on themselves, through their own behavior, or, alternatively, with the silence imposed on them by social norms regarding sexual assault and domestic violence.
A group of like minded women, who wanted to create a different reality for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, came together in 1978 and decided to create a resource center in Winona to do just that.
They started off forming two volunteer task forces, one to address domestic violence and one to address sexual assault. Soon after, with a grant from the Department of Corrections, the WRC opened an office in the Exchange Building in downtown Winona, and hired their first Director. The WRC was one of the first organizations of its kind in the region. As such, the staff had to do the research and train themselves. They had to learn how to work with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to ensure their safety and well-being. They had to learn how to educate members of the criminal justice, health care, and social service systems on the needs of survivors. And they had to start educating the community at large about issues concerning these forms of violence. Many refused to acknowledge the violence against women taking place in their own community.
The WRC grew out of the second wave of the feminist movement, which believed that “the personal is political.” As a result, feminists worked to address issues and situations that had long been considered private and outside the realm of public discussion, like violence against women. Feminists also drew attention to how so many of our social and cultural institutions reinforced male power and dominance. In seeking to empower women, for instance, feminists promoted the title Ms. to replace Miss or Mrs., which identified women by their marital status, in a way that Mr. does not. Feminists also challenged other gendered language and the founders of the WRC considered naming their new project the Womyn’s Resource Center, taking “men” out of the word “women”. “Women” won out in the end, though, because the alternative spelling would have made it harder for people to find in the phone book.
While the name and phone number of the WRC were listed in the phone book, the address was not: staff and volunteers believed that public identification of the Center’s location would make it risky for women to come for services. This changed, however, in 1992, when WRC raised enough money to purchase the home on East 5th Street. By that time, the Center was sufficiently well established in the community, that public identification of the WRC’s location, at a very busy Winona intersection, would allow the Center to grow, both in its work with survivors, and in its community education work.
This location became iconic for the WRC, but its structural limitations became increasingly problematic. A new location, and the current home of the WRC, was acquired at Latsch Square on Winona’s downtown 2nd Street. The strengths of this move were that it was wheelchair accessible, gave advocates more office space to work, and increased client confidentiality by making the primary entrance less exposed while still maintaining a convenient downtown location.
The ACW is committed to placing women’s needs and concerns at the center of our work. Our work has always been organized around the assumption that women know best what will be best for themselves and their children, and so we work with them to understand their options and we support them in the choices that they make.
The ACW also educates its partners in the community in the importance of placing women’s own understanding of their situation and their own choices at the center of all work on domestic violence and sexual assault. The ACW sees activism on women’s and gender issues as part of its ongoing work. Consequently, we work with the statewide coalitions, Minnesota Coalition against Sexual Assault and Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, to monitor state and federal legislation regarding violence against women. We also meet with local officials and with candidates for local offices to educate them about issues concerning violence against women. The ACW has also been successful, over the decades of its existence, in shaping local policies and procedures regarding violent crimes against women, and has established partnerships with a wide range of organizations and agencies working with women and children. Finally, the ACW has used its position in the community to take public positions on various issues, most recently, in opposition to a proposed amendment to the Minnesota state constitution which would have banned same-sex marriage.