Women Helping Women offers survivors autonomy, empowerment

Kristin Shrimplin is someone you want in your corner.

The executive director and CEO of Women Helping Women, Shrimplin came aboard in 2015. Her passion for the organization’s dedication to preventing gender-based violence and empowering all survivors is palpable. 

“I had a fire in my belly because I knew that the mission was so beautiful, and the staff were so incredible,” said Shrimplin, who previously spent 12 years with the YWCA of Cincinnati. 

Kristin Shrimplin by Helen Adams for Movers and Makers 2023
Kristin Shrimplin by Helen Adams for Movers and Makers ©2023

History of Women Helping Women

Founded in 1973 by three University of Cincinnati students, Women Helping Women is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The founding came from an increasing dissatisfaction with the lack of assistance available at the time to women in Cincinnati who were suffering from sexual abuse, rape and intimate partner violence. 

The organization began as a single telephone line that women could call for help, stationed in a room with a cot so the founders could take shifts. A rape crisis program was initiated in 1975. They then partnered with the YWCA for a public speak-out for battered women, eventually helping to get the Battered Women Project off the ground. Next they worked with General Hospital, now UC Medical Center, for immediate rape response. 

“They started up these collaborations – they started the hotline, a collaboration with the hospital, with the prosecutors, with law enforcement, and then they started going to court and responding to court,” Shrimplin said. 

It wasn’t easy. 

“It took a while but it was at times very frustrating but at other times really exciting and fun,” said Dr. Jill Bley, one of the original founders. “When you have a lot of women supporting you, you build up a lot of very close friendships.” 

Fast forward to 2023, when the framework laid down by the WHW founders has proven invaluable. 

“[We’re here] because of these women, because of Dr. Jill Bley and others, because of what they started,” Shrimplin said. “They were consistent and kept growing, and didn’t give up on that. They incorporated as a nonprofit. Today, we serve four counties, and we do a 24/7 response hotline. Last year, we took just under 15,000 calls. We now respond to 25 hospitals in this four-county region, and we do that 24/7 through three tiers of shifts of people.” 

WHW also implemented a 24/7 on-scene response program called the Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team, or DVERT. Advocates respond to 24 jurisdictions in Hamilton County, getting to the scene after a 911 call and showing up to help survivors immediately. 

“It’s a groundbreaking program because often – and this is social justice – so much of the burden of violence is on the shoulders of survivors,” said Shrimplin. “So with the DVERT
program … we go out and we’re right there. It could be 3 a.m., it could be right now. And we’re focused on survivors, and often we’re asking them for the first time, ‘What do you want to see happen now?’ ” 

Centering survivors

That return of autonomy to survivors is perhaps one of the most powerful ways in which Women Helping Women exemplifies the values of social justice. 

“They’re the experts of their lives,” Shrimplin said. “So we’re giving them that back, and we are not making decisions for them, ever. This is about autonomy; this is about empowerment. It’s about all of those pieces, and then our role is to facilitate that.”

To that end, WHW works with 16 courts in four counties, providing court accompaniment and legal advocacy. That can look like helping secure protection orders, or going to grand jury hearings, or accompanying survivors through prosecution. 

“We want to hold that space,” Shrimplin said. “And we want to follow that line all the way through – from the hotline, to going to the hospitals to going on-scene to going to court. Because again, these are all systems. And systems are so large and often systems are not equitable and they’re not set up in a way to center survivors. So we have to center a survivor and go back to, ‘What would you like to see happen?’ ” 

Formative years

Shrimplin grew up in a small Ohio village, with one stoplight, on either side of which was a jail and a library. That juxtaposition would prove to be a powerful metaphor that ended up guiding her future. Because she herself experienced sexual assault when she first went to college at Kenyon University. She was, in her own words, completely lost, and contemplated dropping out. Her experience is one of the reasons Women Helping Women implemented a campus response program. It also laid a foundation for Shrimplin before she knew where her career would take her and before she had the words to describe what she wanted to do with that career. 

“That’s where I learned my voice as a survivor wasn’t being heard,” Shrimplin said. “I had an incredible professor, who, when I told him I was going to drop out, said, ‘Just go on a walk with me.’ And he said, ‘Tell me what you want to study,’ and because I had that experience, and because I was thinking back to that one stoplight: To the right are all those books with a lot to learn, but I know there’s the jail – where I’m feeling lost and angry. And I said, ‘I want to study the voice of the voiceless. How do people who have that taken away – how do they get that back?’ ” 

The answer, for Shrimplin, was to create her own major: Art and Authority. She studied how the art of a subdominant culture, in the face of oppressors, could be used to build community, safety and to receive resources. 

“I didn’t have a name for it, but that was social justice,” said Shrimplin. “I didn’t know, in real time, that I was fighting for the voice that got taken away from me in that room, or taken away from me in high school, in a small town.” 

Shrimplin thrived in her conviction to amplify the voiceless, graduating with honors. She went on to receive her master’s degree, run a domestic violence shelter in Medina County, and eventually work at the YWCA. 

Kristin Shrimplin by Helen Adams for Movers and Makers 2023
Kristin Shrimplin by Helen Adams for Movers and Makers 2023

Working on prevention

“I love working with community,” Shrimplin said. “But I wanted to work on prevention. From there I got recruited to work at Women Helping Women – in June it’ll be eight years. When I came to Women Helping Women, I knew there was this opportunity to continue being part of the movement (against) gender-based violence.”

She helped the organization grow from 17 employees to 85, and from a budget of $975,000 – with no cash reserves – to an annual budget of $5.5 million. 

“We just keep building on because part of our focus goes back to that social justice mindset and that abundance mindset – because survivors deserve abundance,” Shrimplin said. “We’re not going to stop at access, the basic human rights – no, you get abundance.” 

Holistic approach

That holistic approach to advocacy is in part what helped Women Helping Women connect with bi3 – an initiative created by Bethesda Inc. that works to drive innovation in healthcare and improve community health outcomes. In 2021, the regional Community Health Needs Assessment was released. None of the results were necessarily a surprise to organizations like bi3.

“There was definitely this acknowledgement that how people think about health is not necessarily [just] from a clinical standpoint,” said Kiana Tabue, bi3’s vice president of strategic partnerships. “We really came to this realization that when we talk about health, we have to talk about it from a broader standpoint.” 

In 2022, bi3 selected Women Helping Women’s Rise Beyond Violence campaign for health equity funding. 

“Understanding the type of organization that Women Helping Women is, and really Kristin’s leadership, how Kristin shows up as a leader, how she shows up for community, how she partners with community, she definitely had our attention from that standpoint,” Tabue said. “We really started to think about, ‘How do we build the resilience of community, and for families?’ ” 

The Rise Beyond Violence campaign’s vision is to serve 50,000 survivors in five years, provide 25,000 youth with prevention services, and raise a total of $5.6 million to enable those services. 

“We want to be anywhere in the community that survivors are going to be, and students and young people,” Shrimplin said.

Women Helping Women celebrates 50 years with Journey to Joy

Friday, June 9, 7 p.m., Music Hall Ballroom

Fiftieth anniversary event features guest speakers, cocktails, dinner and dancing, and silent auction. Black tie or formal attire. VIP cocktail hour from 6-7 p.m. 

Tickets: $150, VIP: $250; table of 8: $1,250 


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