In 1977, a small number of volunteers with a few borrowed phones began fielding calls from women in Houston escaping abuse. Today, we know this organization as the Houston Area Women’s Center.

Over time, HAWC has:

    • Grown from a small volunteer organization to a large professional nonprofit
    • Progressed from a donated room, to a modest shelter, to a counseling and education and 120-bed shelter over the span of four decades
    • Expanded from rape crisis response to comprehensive programming and services for women, children and families, including sexual and domestic abuse, assault and sex trafficking
    • Assumed a leadership position in advocacy and public policy, lobbying for change in state laws and community law enforcement procedures, including arrests in cases of domestic violence
    • Emerged as a truly multicultural, multilingual organization that recognizes and addresses the intersectionality of violence and vulnerable populations, with targeted outreach to the African-American, Hispanic and Asian communities

Please click through the slideshow to learn about our mission in motion over the years.

  • 1970s
  • 1980s
  • 1990s
  • 2000s
  • 2010s
  • 2020s


    On the heels of the Women’s Movement and the 1977 National Women’s Conference hosted in Houston, the Houston Area Women’s Center is founded, starting with 8 beds and a few donated phone lines, while Nikki Hightower is named first executive director.



    By the 1980s, the number of shelter beds grows from 8 to 19 to 45 beds, HAWC opens one of the country’s first Rape Crisis Centers, and it expands into the community. A counseling and advocacy center opens its doors in 1984, while HAWC expanded its reach beyond Houston with satellite centers in both Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties. Today, the Fort Bend and Montgomery County Women’s Centers serve as important sister agencies to HAWC, with beginnings inextricably linked.

    The 1980s also highlighted several key advocacy efforts, from overhauling sexual assault laws, to working with Houston police to demand arrests in domestic violence cases, to vocally lobbying for the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). Multiple state rape laws also passed in Texas in the 1980s thanks to HAWC’s advocacy.



    HAWC purchases and renovates the former United Way building at 1010 Waugh, offering expanded services for survivors, including those for Spanish speaking survivors. Children’s Court Services for child survivors of sexual assault is also established in 1993.



    A $9 million dollar Capital Campaign to fund and construct a 120-bed shelter creates one of the largest domestic and sexual violence shelters in the country. Ellen Cohen announces her retirement at HAWC after 18 years at the helm, and Rebecca White joins as the organization’s third leader in its history.



    HAWC unveils a new 24-hour, a state-of-the-art hotline counseling and call center to better reach survivors. Our 40th anniversary in 2017 also marked the year Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston. In an unprecedented coordinated response, HAWC served survivors with support on both the hotlines and in the community, providing necessary resources such as food, water, clothing and essential supplies.

    One year later, Emilee Dawn Whitehurst is named CEO following Rebecca White’s retirement.

  • Persevering Through the Challenges


    In order to reach survivors in light of a global pandemic and stay at home-orders, HAWC launches a citywide #NOCOVIDAbuse Awareness Campaign in collaboration with city leaders and domestic violence partners. In 2020, HAWC’s professional staff soared to 162, the largest year over year growth in its history.