The mission of Women and Children’s Horizons is to provide support, shelter, education, training and healing services to victims of sexual and domestic abuse, their families and the community.
Women and Children’s Horizons was incorporated in 1976 and is the oldest incorporated shelter and services provider for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Wisconsin. The agency is also one of the first in the United States, having started before the enactment of the federal Violence Against Women Act in 1977, and at the advent of the Women’s Rights Movement of the 1970s.
Two Kenosha women, Joann Rattan, and Carol Merrick incorporated the agency in 1976. They had been seeing women as mental health professionals and hearing about the family violence, and the lack of resources, those clients experienced for years prior to. They then started meeting as groups in local restaurants. At the time, there was no emergency shelter for battered women, and neither the city nor the county provided one. So, they started their own.
They were disturbed by statistics that showed the undeniable seriousness of domestic violence against women. Together with twenty-two other women and men, they set up WCH’s first 24-hour crisis line in April 1976, called Action Center. With just one radio spot announcement and a phone number listed in the local paper, Action Center received over 50 calls within a 24-hour period. Recognizing the strong community need, the group was legally incorporated in October 1976.
Their original mission was: “To raise the consciousness of the community to recognize the incidence of wife beating. To aid battered women in immediate danger. To establish an emergency shelter for battered women and their children. To provide support services not provided in the community. To end further violence against women.”
On January 18, 1977, the City of Kenosha granted $13,500 of Community Development Block Grant funds to set up a shelter and to provide emergency care and job training to abused women and their children.
The agency officially opened its shelter in March 1977, at its first shelter located at 1630 56th Street.
By January 1983, the community’s need for services grew so much that the agency moved to a duplex in the Fisk Subdivision, with a confidential shelter and a social services office.
By May 31, 2007, the agency grew to its current three-building structure: a social services office at 2525 63rd Street, a rural office at 8607 Antioch Road in Salem Lakes, and an emergency shelter at a confidential location.
By 2023, the agency has grown to include advocacy offices at the Kenosha Courthouse and the Kenosha District Attorney’s Office, a 16,000-square-foot thrift shop, Nifty Thrifty, and a group of transitional living apartments.
WCH’s mission is to provide support, shelter, advocacy, education, training, and healing services to victims of sexual and domestic abuse, their families, their children (who are often primary or secondary victims), and the community. We envision communities fully engaged to provide safety and to give voice to all affected by domestic abuse and sexual assault while creating the social change necessary to address its root causes. Our mission is achievable through survivor-centered work that includes strategic partnerships and collaboration. As advocates for social justice, we embrace the voices of diverse communities. We will consider any non-violent strategy that is consistent with our mission to prevent and eliminate domestic abuse and sexual abuse.
1970-1976 – grassroots services to victims in local restaurants
October 19, 1976 – WCH is incorporated under the name Women’s Horizons, Inc
1976 – WCH purchases first shelter
1977 – WCH clarifies its mission to receive 501(C)(3) status to operate as a charitable cause
January 18, 1977 – The City of Kenosha awards $13,500 of funds to help the agency establish its first shelter
March 1977- The first shelter opens
January 7, 1983 – WCH moves to the second shelter and social services building. WCH expands services to include sexual assault services, legal advocacy, and personal advocacy. At the same time, WCH informally changes its name to Women and Children’s Horizons, Inc and expands services to children victims
1995 – WCH starts its transitional living program to assist with housing costs for clients moving out of the shelter
1996- WCH expands its legal assistance program to include LEAP, the Law Enforcement Assistance Program, to provide training and on-the-scene advocacy to law enforcement
1998 – WCH starts the Gentleman Program to garner support from men in the community and to model appropriate treatment of women
July 22, 1999 – WCH changes its name to WoMen and Children’s Horizons, Inc. and expands services to include male victims
December 21, 2003 – WCH merges with a sexual assault services program, Pathways of Courage, under the name Women and Children’s Horizons, Inc.
June 1, 2007- WCH moves to new administration building and confidential shelter
January 1, 2009- WCH expands services to include subsidized repaid-rehousing
January 1, 2012 – WCH opens Nifty Thrifty to provide necessaries and funding to clients
April 2, 2015 – WCH moves Nifty Thrifty to a 10,000 square foot warehouse
2019 – WCH becomes a state-selected agency for the SAKI Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, aimed at testing evidence kits on behalf of assault survivors and charging offenders
February 1, 2020 – WCH opens West of the I office to provide rural services
January 1, 2023 – WCH operates five offices and 16,000 square foot Nifty Thrifty
WCH serves over 5,000 people annually.
Although our agency does not discriminate, our client base is at least 40% minority group, 80% low to no income, and 55% under age 35 at all times.
WCH hosts several community events annually:
Unmask Abuse Mardi Gras
Strike Out Abuse Bowl-a-Thon
Slice Out Abuse Golf Outing
October DV Awareness Ceremony
Victims of domestic and sexual violence are often unfamiliar with advocacy services. Community-based advocates, such as those at WCH, offer free and confidential supportive services. These include systems advocacy (assistance with the legal process, medical care, reporting to law enforcement), one-on-one advocacy, group support, crisis intervention, referrals to our 24/7 emergency shelter, and information and referrals to community resources. An advocate’s role is to listen to victims, provide unbiased information and options about the different courses of action available, and to support the victim’s choices. Participation in the criminal justice process, filing a law enforcement report, and/or leaving one’s abuser is not required in order to access advocacy services.
WCH is Kenosha County’s only domestic violence/sexual assault agency and has served the county’s residents for almost 50 years. Other community agencies rely on WCH’s legal program as there is very little low or no-cost legal assistance available. WCH receives referrals from Kenosha Human Development Services, the Job Center, the Department of Corrections, schools, and medical care providers. With the help of volunteers and interns, the legal program promotes services through community outreach, social media, law enforcement, and at community events.
Advocates help victims better understand the complex judicial system with regard to their specific legal concerns in civil, family, or criminal court. Unfortunately, victims without legal support often choose not to cooperate with a case because they are overwhelmed by the court system, they do not have money for an attorney and they are afraid. They may return to their abuser. Our advocates overcome these barriers to justice, ultimately helping victims leave violent homes and gain access to a more suitable living environment by providing a variety of supports.
A victim needing a restraining order can meet with our advocate right at the Kenosha County Courthouse. The restraining order advocate, supervised by the legal program coordinator, helps fill out and file restraining order petitions through the civil court system.
An advocate attends preliminary hearings, plea, motion, and judicial pre-trial and sentence hearings with clients. The advocate offers one-on-one support and creates safety plans with victims. The advocate explains the different types of hearings and helps set realistic expectations with victims, such as how long the criminal process could take and how long the no-contact orders could be in effect. Additionally, the advocate explains other agency and community resources that may be beneficial – such as low-income housing options.
An advocate also accompanies victims to law enforcement interviews when requested and provides on-call advocacy at Kenosha-area hospitals and medical centers for victims of domestic or sexual abuse. Having an advocate available to work with victims through the criminal justice process is important due to the complexity of the system. Providing victims with an opportunity to speak freely and discuss their situation confidentially helps them with their healing process.
WCH also provides mental health treatment and social services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and their families. This includes accompaniment to medical appointments; free therapy; support groups; prevention courses, also known as batterer intervention classes; and coordination of benefits, such as food assistance.
WCH continues to provide emergency shelter, its first service and has expanded housing services to include transitional, subsidizing housing, hotel vouchers, and relocation assistance.
WCH provides outreach and training to the community often. This includes training to law enforcement, hospitals, and other social service agencies; in-services and support groups to schools and churches; and outreach for events like Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month; Human Trafficking Awareness Month; and Teen Dating Awareness Month.
Nationwide and here in Kenosha, legal assistance is one of the most requested forms of assistance requested by domestic violence victims. Many victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, harassment, and/or stalking face obstacles when seeking assistance through the justice system. These obstacles include lack of experience and unfamiliarity with court processes, limited English proficiency, disabilities, and lack of financial resources to hire legal representation. WCH often receives positive feedback from the courts on the thoroughness of the paperwork completed and the advocacy provided, with the court officials indicating that they can recognize when WCH has assisted an individual in court because the individual is much more prepared and knowledgeable. Thus, WCH makes an impact on individual clients, but also on the efficiency and success of the judicial system in Kenosha County.
Over the course of almost 50 years, WCH has expanded services from grassroots get-togethers to:
Emergency 24-hour shelter Law enforcement training
24-hour crisis hotline Sexual Assault advocacy
Domestic Violence advocacy Sexual Assault support groups
Domestic Violence support groups Transitional living
Certified treatment for batterers Hispanic community services
Children’s services Legal Advocacy
Campus and student services LGBTQ advocacy
Older age support groups Human trafficking
SAKI initiative Immigration assistance
All services, as Joann Rattan and Carol Merrick intended, are free regardless of the survivor’s income.
THE HISTORY OF WCH
Women and Children’s Horizons was established in 1976 and is the oldest incorporated shelter and services provider for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Wisconsin. We are also one of the very first in the country. We have been reporting with granted funds and charitable donations for almost 50 years. Our mission is to provide support, shelter, advocacy, education, training, and healing services to victims of sexual and domestic abuse, their families, their children (who are often primary or secondary victims), and the community. We have three primary buildings – a shelter/children’s program center, an administration building, and a rural office/outreach center – and collaborate with other agencies in Wisconsin and Illinois. We also regularly visit programs and courthouses, college campuses, jails, hospitals, and schools. We work regularly throughout the I-94 corridor.
Help Line 262-652-9900
Help Line (toll free) 800-853-3503