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Domestic violence deaths on the rise since start of pandemic

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CINCINNATI (WKRC) - A local organization is sounding the alarm on an unsettling trend in our region. Domestic violence deaths have increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic. Women Helping Women President and CEO, Kristin Shrimplin, says the spike was evident early last year.

“What we’re seeing around domestic violence in this region is not normal,” Shrimplin said. “We quantifiably know when we look at the data, when we look at the harm that is being committed in our community, it’s as if we’ve gone back 20 years in the movement. This is not normal.”

Newly released data from the Ohio Domestic Violence Network reveals the concerning trend. The report shows a more than 60-percent increase in domestic violence deaths over the last two years and a 20-percent increase in just one year. The past year also included the highest number of deaths in children.

“We saw a lot different uses of what we call high lethality tactics when we would respond on scene. We were seeing that early on last year during the pandemic, more use of firearms, more use of strangulation, more threats to kill and we saw last year, a spike in domestic violence homicides. So we roll into 2021 and we knew that we were continuing this wave that really got ignited by the pandemic and it has not gone down,” Shrimplin said.

WHW works to prevent gender-based violence and empower survivors.

Experts respond with law enforcement to domestic violence calls. That unit has grown since it first started in 2018.

“When police go out on a domestic violence call, they secure the scene and they dispatch us,” Shrimplin said. “Because we’ve seen this increase of what’s really been going on with domestic violence, gender-based violence in our region, we have grown that unit.”

WHW used to only respond in one jurisdiction: Cincinnati proper with CPD. Now they respond in 15 jurisdictions.

“We need to be in more,” Shrimplin said. “The need is just that great.”

Last year, Women Helping Women’s 24/7 anonymous hotline answered 12,000 calls.

“When people call that 24/7 number, they’re really looking for safety planning, support, to get help and get connected,” Shrimplin said. “We are already on pace right now this year to either meet or exceed that number.”

Shrimplin says there’s hope and she sees the potential for change.

“If we all work together as leaders to say not only is there a continuing pandemic, we’ve always had an epidemic, always have had an epidemic of gender-based violence,” Shrimplin said. “When you have one out of three women, one out of three experiencing gender-based violence. When you have two out of three kids in their homes exposed to trauma and domestic violence, that’s a pandemic. It’s been going on for generations but when the pandemic came, what we are seeing are these breakthrough horrific domestic violence homicides and so what do we do to prevent that? What are the levers we can pull and that’s where the good news is because there are systematic changes that we can do.”

WHW works in a few schools in Cincinnati Public Schools but Shrimplin says a program is needed across the district.

“Our agency serves around 7,500 survivors, adult survivors a year. We know a majority of those survivors come from the Cincinnati footprint. Then let’s go in with prevention into Cincinnati Public Schools system wide, we’ll come in. We’ll find the funding. We’ve got the educators, it is an expert service we do. Let’s go in and work with young people,” Shrimplin said.

She says the partnership with law enforcement needs to continue.

“We’re very grateful for the city’s support of that and the county’s support of that and private donors,” Shrimplin said. “We have to sustain that and build up our unit so that we can get into the frontlines.”

Shrimplin says corporations have a role to play.

“Corporations absolutely can pull a lever to write policies that support survivors while they’re at work. Safety plan with them to connect them to agencies like our or do trainings and they can work with our agency or others on if you suspect that one of your coworkers or someone you supervise is experiencing domestic violence, here’s what you can do in that moment to help,” Shrimplin said. “That’s an easy lever for workplaces to pull.”

She’s also calling for changes in the criminal justice system.

“Let’s make it the norm, let’s make it the practice for victimless prosecution. Let’s go ahead and move forward with that because survivors are already experiencing so many challenges and barriers, right? Perhaps if I’m a survivor I’m too afraid to show up at the courthouse, perhaps I don’t have childcare, perhaps I don’t have transportation. So fine, move forward with prosecution without me having to show up. That is something we can make the norm,” Shrimplin said.

Shrimplin is also advocating for a high risk domestic violence team to bring community partners in the criminal justice system together with domestic violence agencies. It’s happening in Columbus and Shrimplin says it’s possible in Hamilton County.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This month, community leaders will join a panel discussion to talk about options for change. Women Helping Women’s Annual Corporate Event is scheduled for October 28th. ( You can register to join the virtual event or ask a question. The panel will include Tianay Amat, CPS Interim Superintendent, Denise Driehaus, Hamilton County Commissioner, Barbara Turner, President and CEO of Ohio National Financial Services and Moria Weir, President and CEO of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati.

You can call or text WHW’s 24-hour anonymous hotline at 513-381-5610.

Shrimplin has a message to anyone who is experiencing an unhealthy relationship or a relationship that has become emotionally, physically or sexually abusive.

“It’s not your fault. You’ve been told it’s your fault, it’s not. We believe you. You’ve been told no one’s going to believe you. Our agency and many other community partners, we believe you and there’s help. You’ve been told you have to handle this on your own. You do not,” Shrimplin said.

If there’s someone you’re concerned about, Shrimplin says you have the power to be affirming to them.

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“Say the exact same thing. It’s not your fault. I believe you. Would you like to be connected to help? What would you like to see happen?” Shrimplin said.

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