Founded in 1973, Women Helping Women (WHW) began as a community-based, feminist response to the many unmet needs of local women. A small group of University of Cincinnati (UC) undergraduates and dedicated community members believed that with the right resources and peer support, they could make a difference in their community and the lives of survivors. At its inception, the original founders first met at the UC Women’s Center, but soon moved across the street to offices owned by the United Christian Ministries (UCM). UCM funded the phone line, office supplies and a modest salary for Linda Sattem, a founder and the first director of WHW.
After the 24-hour rape crisis hotline was established in 1973, calls indicated a need for specialized services for rape victims. In February of 1974, membership voted to implement rape crisis services, and soon WHW was granted tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization.
Current executive director Kendall Fisher has spent 26 years in the business of advocacy and crisis intervention. Her passion and perseverance for women’s issues resulted from the lack of resources she experienced as an undergrad at Miami University
“I was an accounting and finance major in college, and a friend of mine was raped and came to me,” Fisher says. “I didn’t have the first clue as to what to do. I called around for help, and there wasn’t any.”
The experience led Fisher to change her major to women’s studies; she went on to become the associate director for Women Helping Women from 1996 to 2000, and was hired on as executive director in 2008.
“From the very first time I had the opportunity to be an advocate,” Fisher says, “it kinda got into my blood and I couldn’t not do it anymore.”
All WHW volunteers and employees become advocates after a mandatory 40-hour training period, which teaches crisis intervention and response techniques for survivors of sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence. Volunteers undergo a background check to ensure the safety of others, and applications are open every spring and fall.
In Hamilton County, WHW has seen a 31 percent increase in crisis intervention services between 2012 and 2013. Within the past year, the nonprofit has overseen 243 hospital accompaniments, attended 847 court appearances and served 7,041 individuals on the 24-hour hotline. The dedicated employees and volunteers also served more than 2,700 people in support groups last year alone.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, approximately 60 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police due to victim-blaming and lack of education and resources. This is something that Women Helping Women combats and responds to every day. To promote a healthier, more accurate view of survivors, Fisher and her employees practice regular outreach education and activism with local schools and different community groups.
When comparing her hands-on work as an advocate with her role as director, Fisher stresses the importance of staying focused, even if she’s not directly working with survivors every day.
“I’m not in the trenches anymore, but you can’t forget what you’re doing when you’re on the front line,” Fisher says.
Today, despite its name, which is indicative of its origin, WHW is a team of both women and men who serve both women and men.
“These are pretty gendered crimes,” Fisher says. “Sexual assault and domestic violence do affect primarily women, but men are also affected by abuse.”
Every spring, WHW hosts a sequence of Sunday Salon fundraisers that mirror the core values WHW was founded upon — a small group of people coming together for a common cause. Board members and prevalent community supporters offer their time and private homes to raise money to support the organization. The salons bring WHW a little more than $20,000 each year, and all of the funding goes directly into resources for the survivors.
“I would like (the work that I do) to not be radical,” Fisher says. “I would like it to not be shocking or amazing or terribly progressive to say that abuse shouldn’t happen, that people shouldn’t be abused. I would love to put myself out of business because nobody needs our services anymore. That is the ultimate goal. But since that’s probably not going to happen anytime within the next few weeks, I just gotta keep going.”
WOMEN HELPING WOMEN’s Sunday Salon, “Life as a Post-Menopausal Urban Pioneer” with Moe Rouse, takes place 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $65, and spots are limited to 50; call 513-236-2010.