What is The Women’s Center For Advancement?

Jan 18, 2022

Domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, mental & physical abuse and human trafficking are all serious crimes in their own regards, but people often fail to remember the victims. We learn about the struggles that victims of these crimes face and the resources and help that is provided by the Women’s Center for Advancement of Omaha with special guest Katie Welsh.


Susan Reff: On today’s podcast, we have an extra special guest with us today. Katie Welsh from the Women’s Center for Advancement of Omaha is here. She is the legal director and she is going to be telling us a little bit about what the Women’s Center for Advancement does, who they serve, what her role is, what we as a community can do to help the women’s center. And just a little deep dive into some domestic violence issues as well. So thanks, Katie, for being here.

Katie Welsh: Thanks for having me.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Katie is also an extra special guest because we were just talking about how Katie and Susan sometimes are mistaken for each other.

Susan Reff: Well, and there’s there’s so much more to it because Katie and I have hung out together and some of the mutual people that we know feed into it. And I don’t know if it’s joking or if they really see it. But, you know, they say people have doppelgangers and people have said, Katie and I are that of each other. But Katie is very nice because she’s like 15 years younger than me, probably. So I,

Tracy Hightower-Henne: You know, doppelgangers usually are. I think for the two of you, if you look at pictures of the two of you sit side by side, you can be mistaken for the same person. But now even in person, seeing the two of you, even even more so.

Katie Welsh: Well, we both went to Creighton as well. Yes, philosophy majors. So it really it goes deeper than just how we look on the surface.

Susan Reff: But yeah, I do know one personal fact about Katie that very much distinguishes us in that she is

Tracy Hightower-Henne: She gave you permission to tell this. No, we’re going to do it anyway.

Susan Reff: Katie has a dog and she loves, loves, loves, loves, loves her dog.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: You don’t like dogs.

Susan Reff: I am not a dog person is what I like to say. And Katie is like the type of person she puts, like cute pictures of her dog on Facebook and cute videos. And it’s true. While I do that about my cats, Katie does it for her dog. So she is a dog person. I’m a cat person.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So there that’s how we distinguish. Yes, that’s the only distinction

Susan Reff: For my dog. You know it’s Katie. I’m Susan. Yeah, very good. And if I if she’s with a cat, it’s Susan. This year,

Tracy Hightower-Henne: One thing perfect. Well, tell us more about you, Katie.

Katie Welsh: Well, thanks for thanks for having me. That’s quite an introduction. Yes, I am. I am a dog mom. That’s probably at the top. But yeah, I’m the legal director at the Women’s Center for Advancement. I’ve been at the WCA since 2016. I feel really lucky to work with the team that I have there. A lot of us are dog people or animal people. I think working on behalf of people who are in need and then loving animals can kind of go hand in hand.

Susan Reff: So people that don’t have animals are just weird. I mean, let’s just put that out there. I I I don’t know. I mean, our producers here and I’m not sure, are you? Do you have an animal? You can’t have one. Ok, OK. Oh, so he’s a future pet owner in the future. Everyone else here in the room has multiple animals that I know of.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So you get to have any pets at the WCA building.

Katie Welsh: I wish we used to do that, but we’ve had therapy dogs come around, you know, to help us out. But we all have pictures up right next to our, yeah, if we have children, it’s right on the same level. We talk about them around the water cooler, so they’re very much a presence.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: And we were just before our podcast started talking about the WCWS building and how huge it is. And when you moved in there, I think everyone thought, Whoa, they need that much space and you’re growing out of it already.

Katie Welsh: Yes, we were super lucky to get that space. We the building we were in doesn’t even exist anymore, but I think it was like a a fast food joint at one point. If you know your Omaha history, it was like right across from Romeos.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yes, and Romeos is gone now, too.

Katie Welsh: That’s yeah, that was a bad reference.

Susan Reff: But the building is still there.

Katie Welsh: It’s not.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: It’s not down. Oh yeah, they tore it up. It’s just

Katie Welsh: Grass.

Susan Reff: I I thought, I OK.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: My office is taking over all of that.

Katie Welsh: Yes, they are. My office in that building was a closet, which I learned when we were moving out.

Susan Reff: So you’re like, Why are there no outlets in here? Why don’t I have an extension cord?

Katie Welsh: Right, so when we moved into the building, I have this legit office with legit windows and but yeah, we are very full. We have lovely consultation rooms where our clients feel like everything that they can discuss is private. Yet there’s a lot of like natural light that comes in through the window and especially during the winter. We all know how light kind of affects your mental health. So there’s just it was designed with our clients comfort in mind, given what they would be talking about with us. So we just feel really lucky to have gotten in there and then still be there, but we are bursting at the seams.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah. So tell us about what are the programs that are inside the building and why do you need all that space?

Katie Welsh: We have a lot of services at the WCA, and the idea behind all of our services is that if you are leaving a traumatic situation, domestic violence stalking, you need to be able to address a lot of needs in one place. We don’t ask you to compartmentalize your trauma in order to receive services from us, so you may come into the WCA having left a difficult situation with nothing but a bag of clothes. We have clothing boutique. We have some pantry items. We have personal hygiene items for those individuals, but it goes even further than that. We have support groups, we have classes, we have crisis counseling services, we have legal services, which is where me and my team come in and we assist with divorce, custody, protection orders and immigration related to survivors of domestic violence. We have advocates in case managers and then we just started a housing program in the last a little over a year ago. So we really try to do everything that we can. We are not a shelter. That’s the one thing we don’t offer under our roof. But we have relationships with all the shelters in town and anything that we don’t provide directly. We have we try to develop relationships to get our clients connected with those services.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: And so what does it look like when a potential client comes in? You know, what’s kind of the is there a typical story that happens and how do they go through that process?

Katie Welsh: Well, we try to provide a lot of doors into our services, so we will do outreach calls, we get domestic violence police reports, and we will just call out on those police reports to the victims and make sure that they are getting what they need. Or how can we be helpful to you in this difficult situation? We also do hospital calls. A lot of times we’ll be called by Methodist, for instance, and they will say, we have a survivor here who has been offered your services and really wants to speak to somebody and will have an advocate go right out there in person. And then we have a lot of walk in traffic as well, so our survivors will make up an excuse or some way to safely leave a dangerous situation and then just walk through our doors and we will instantly mobilize our advocates and whoever else that’s needed to help them in their situation as we deal with a crisis situation. So as we’re helping somebody apply for a protection order or meeting somebody who’s at the hospital, we’re instantly thinking of, OK, what else needs to happen here? Because the goal is, is to get survivors out of this crisis mode situation and thinking about, OK, what does independence look like if I’ve just left this difficult situation? It a lot of times those domestic violence situations are terrible and atrocious, but survivors make the best of it somehow. Or they they convince themselves of a lot of good reasons to stay. And so it’s very difficult to conceive of your life outside of that. And so being able to provide that relationship piece, either through working with an attorney or working with an advocate or a counselor is huge in terms of healing and then being able to visualize your life down the road by a month, two months a year and so on and so forth.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah, independence may have been something that has been a long time or never right for these people.

Katie Welsh: Absolutely.

Susan Reff: Yeah. Are the advocates? Are they like therapists or are they? What’s their background? What’s there? What does that look like?

Katie Welsh: I would say a lot of our advocates are have gone to school with some kind of social work emphasis, OK? We have probably half our staff identifies as survivors them. So they just have that lived experience of knowing what it’s like. I would say probably half our staff who provide direct service are bilingual in English and some other language. So there’s just a lot of talent and then obviously you have to. Understand how important it is for us to be there and help somebody and be able to to do it every day, it’s just really hard work.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So. Do you have any statistics on how many people you help every year, every month? What does that look like?

Katie Welsh: I don’t have our current numbers. I would say I’m estimating here, but particularly as it relates to my team protection orders is a really big service that we’re constantly trying to improve and potentially stretch ourselves out to help in more of them than than we can. But I would say as a as a whole organization, I would think that we probably touch about 50 protection orders every month. Our advocates assist with the paperwork, you know, will provide advice or even representation in some cases in those protection order cases. But it’s it’s hundreds, hundreds of people each week, you know, that we’re working with on protection orders, filing cases, responding to hospital calls, taking hotline calls. We have a 24 seven hotline. So especially in this day and age, you have to be able to either meet with people in person or just work with them over text or the phone on a really difficult situation, and especially in COVID. There’s just so many of our clients that we hadn’t even seen until going to court because we work with them totally over the phone or text or email. Yeah.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Do you? I didn’t know about the outbound calls with the WCA. Do you get a lot of people who respond to that? They answer the phone if they you’ve called from the police reports and and the hospital calls.

Katie Welsh: Yes. A lot of we have a lot of folks respond to that. It’s however, many reports are there. So however busy OPD has been, and I think they have been more busy with the domestic violence calls during COVID. But yeah, we do get a lot of response. I think police in many situations are really good at like, Hey, you should you should call these folks and they’ll hand out our card. So sometimes our clients are thinking of us even before we have a chance to reach out to them. Yeah, because of police just always keeping us in their mind.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: And one of the things too is we had Megan Icelander from Nebraska Legal Aid on our podcast, and one of their big things is they have an income eligibility. But tell us about that as it relates to the WCA.

Katie Welsh: Yeah, that’s legal aid does amazing work and they respond all over the state. We are primarily focused in Douglas County, but we have no income eligibility requirements. So whether you come from a family who makes one hundred thousand a year or it’s just you and your kids and you, you don’t make that you’re both treated the same, all of our services are free to our clients. The only eligibility requirements is that you identify as a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or stalking.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So tell us about, you know, kind of the definition of domestic violence. And we’re going to talk a little bit about the Netflix show maid and what domestic violence looks like in that show and how it’s portrayed on Netflix. But tell us about that in in maybe the legal sense and what you see from clients, OK?

Katie Welsh: Yeah. Well, it is a twofold question because I would say anybody who’s in this space where they’re working with survivors of domestic violence knows that it’s all about power and control. It’s about this abusive person who exerts power in some way, whether it be financial, emotional, physical over their victim in order to control their behavior. If you don’t, if you don’t do X, I will take the child from you. If you don’t do why, I won’t give you your allowance this month. That is domestic violence, whether or not a punch is thrown or an object is thrown to make someone afraid, you know that that that punch is going to be landed. I think those emotional tactics are the actually the the injury, so to speak, are much more long lasting than kind of the physical injuries that you eventually heal from. So that is what I and all my colleagues at the WCA know to be domestic violence.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: That is not what the judges know to be domestic violence, correct?

Katie Welsh: I think the I think the legal system thinks of domestic violence in terms of physical injury, bodily injury

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Marks on your body. Yeah.

Susan Reff: Water damage, maybe

Katie Welsh: Property damage, fear that that may happen, you know? The punch didn’t land, but it landed next to my head like the proximity was sufficiently close, and I have a picture of the wall behind me in family law. I think there’s a little more latitude to talk about domestic violence because we have this definition of Dipa domestic intimate partner abuse. But still, I think when you’re talking about it in court, it is very difficult to talk about stalking. It’s difficult to talk about emotional abuse and how that can really dictate your client’s responses or behaviors in certain situations. It’s hard to help the court appreciate like that your client. This is still danger, even if it’s not physical, right?

Tracy Hightower-Henne: We’ve in our law firm have had several instances of, you know, domestic violence that are physical, you know, sort of the I’m using air quotes, easier cases to prove. And even when we have evidence, judges can be very reluctant to, you know, take custody away or require someone to move out of the home, and it becomes a very difficult representation for us to have for our clients. When the judges see some other avenue of, you know, oh, we’ll call it a restraining order as opposed to a protection order, or they’ll cool down right now that they’re not living together or things like that. And I think that becomes really difficult to represent clients and telling them that that’s just how the system is.

Susan Reff: And I think we see sometimes in those situations to where and I think most of the time, it’s pretty fair to say someone’s not going to leave the first time, they’re not going to leave their abuser, even the second time, third time, you know, I mean, it’s usually many, many, many times of the abuse happening before the person leaves. And even when they leave, maybe they don’t stay apart from that person. And then when they have, even if they have all the pieces in place, they have an advocate from the WCA. They’ve got an attorney, they’ve got a court filing saying, you know, I’m going to get divorced and then things start to maybe not go. People are not recognizing what’s happening like a judge and saying like, Oh, well, that’s not that bad. And that can make that person feel not heard. That can make them feel like they’re, you know, and I’ll use air quotes, you know, crazy. And that’s what the abuser wants, right? They want them to feel like you’re making this up. It’s all in your head and things aren’t that bad. And then you have a person in a position of power like a judge reaffirming that and saying like, Well, that’s not that bad. You don’t need a protection order for that or you two can co-parent together.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: And the other thing too, is something that happens often is, will you never call the police? You know, and not only does it take, is it on average six to seven times for the abuse to happen before you leave? You’re also probably not calling the police every time or ever, right? And so then all of a sudden, when we are seeing them in a divorce situation and we’re trying to present this history of abuse through an affidavit, for example, and for the judge to realize what this history of abuse has been, the judges first question often is will you never call the police, did you? And it’s really frustrating that, you know, we’re literally like calling this out right now. And judge, you’re not even taking it seriously. Mm hmm.

Katie Welsh: I think the other thing that survivors are accused of a lot is, Oh, you’re just trying to get a protection order or you’re just trying to get immigration relief to gain some kind of upper hand or to

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Like everyone wants protection orders. Yeah. Yeah.

Katie Welsh: Everyone loves to relive their trauma in a public setting and let somebody else judge their was terrible or not. Yeah. So I think, you know, oftentimes when you walk into these cases that are related and you talk about the protection order like, you know, nobody really takes protection orders seriously, it seems. And it’s not just about gaining an upper hand, it’s it’s actually truly about keeping somebody safe. And it does work in many situations. I realize it’s just a piece of paper, but it’s really beneficial. And it’s often the first access somebody or the first legal case that they’re going to start to talk about or get their needs or safety needs addressed. So.

Susan Reff: And in past podcasts, we’ve talked about the repercussions of a protection order and how our law enforcement addresses them and if. Someone has a protection order against their abuser and that abuser violates it, they’re going to get arrested. They’re not just going to go and get a ticket. Right. And it is a crime to violate a protection order. It’s not a crime to have a protection order against you, but if you violate it, it’s it’s a crime and it’s a crime that is enhanced up to a felony level. If there’s repeated instances of violation. So in that sense, I think our law enforcement and our prosecuting attorneys are looking at it more seriously than judges dealing, maybe with the initial protection order and or custody issues and things that revolve around domestic violence, but that maybe are not, you know, so closely tied to the actual violence.

Katie Welsh: So I think that’s true, but I think police see the same things that we see as advocates of survivors in domestic violence situations, which is that, you know, they’re responding multiple times to the same address and they they can get jaded, too. But that’s why it’s important for us at the WTA to have these really good working relationships with OPD so that we can get involved in their their officer training, or we can just be available to our clients and help them connect with a detective or something to get the right response in a situation. Because it it’s you don’t it doesn’t always happen, right? Sure. That first call to the police doesn’t always get responded to or the response isn’t appropriate considering the circumstances, but it’s that that background work that we do to have relationships is just so meaningful.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: So the WCA is a 501c3, also known as a charitable organization under the IRS tax code. So tell us what the WCA needs and what people can do to help your organization.

Katie Welsh: Yeah, as I mentioned, we have a clothing boutique. We have hygiene items that we put in these what we call go bags that we just package up and send with clients who need them. We have like non-perishable pantry items to provide our clients during consultations. So right now, as it’s frigid cold, our biggest needs are just warm weather clothing like mittens, hats, scarves, big jackets. And that’s for anybody children, adults. The Coke could be for a man or a woman, but we would take any of those items. And then I think another thing that we like to constantly have stocked is those hygiene items. So toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo and conditioner tampons. Thank you. Yeah, yeah. All of all of those like little hygiene items that aren’t on the top of your mind when you’re when you’re leaving a situation or they’re just hard to to buy.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: I mean, they’re expensive.

Katie Welsh: Yeah, very expensive. So those things I think I would prioritize right now during this time of year, more so than just regular clothes.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Well, in the show notes, we will have a link to for the Women’s Center for Advancement, where you can donate money and have the information. I know that every time I have some clothes that you know are like maybe some business clothes, I like to donate them to the WCA because I think I’m I think women come there and need some clothes for interviews and going to work and, yeah, go to court.

Katie Welsh: Yeah, that’s true. And we’re trying to get into this habit of just providing all kinds of clothes like court appropriate clothes, but also, you know, workspaces are a lot more casual nowadays. So, you know, jeans are fine. All that is fine. But we have so many generous people in our city that our clothes, our storage space, is just bursting with clothes. But those cold weather items, we just can’t keep in stock, the hygiene we can’t keep in stock right now.

Susan Reff: So good to know. Thanks, Katie, for sharing that. I I know some people make those go bags themselves and they have, you know, they they’re they’re they’re giving them to people they see out on the street, things like that. So I think that that’s really something that people don’t necessarily think about. Yeah, I mean, we started this conversation by saying we help people in crisis. They leave. They may not even have their purse. You know, what do they have?

Katie Welsh: So, you know, I’ll say to we also take old cell phones. Speaking of things that you either don’t take with you or you take it with you, but it’s maybe not safe to have it with you because your abusers tracking your location or has the password to your email account, which is also on your phone. Yeah. So if you’re looking to get rid of old cell phones, we’ve taken those as donations before too, and we totally wipe the memory off. We just set it up so that you can make an urgent call with with that phone, but that’s also really helpful.

Tracy Hightower-Henne: Yeah, that’s great. Well, this was awesome to have you here and learn more about the Women’s Center for Advancement. I learned a lot. I think it’s really great to hear about the organizations in town that we know what the YMCA does, but we don’t really know. Yeah, and all of the different programs is is just outstanding.

Katie Welsh: So thanks for having me. Thanks, Katie.

Announcer: Thank you for listening to the lady lawyer League Podcast. Be sure to like and subscribe anywhere you get your podcasts, if you would like to learn more about our firm, Hightower-Reff Law, please visit our website at HR Law Omaha.com. We’ll see you next week.

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