Divorce, domestic violence, and murder a deadly trio in the U.S.

Divorce is a significant trigger for domestic violence, including murder.
Divorce is a significant trigger for domestic violence, including murder. Photo: Courtesy MIOIDV Project

SAN DIEGO, April 3, 2014 – Pardon me for repeating myself, but this shockingly familiar story needs to be repeated until the topic of divorce, domestic violence and murder is taken more seriously.

Kassim Alhimidi, 49, is currently on trial in San Diego for the murder of his 32 year old wife, Shaima Alawadi. The beating death originally appeared to be a hate crime against the Iraqi woman, but investigators determined Alawadi was killed by her husband after she asked him for a divorce in March 2o12. She was struck at least six times by a blunt object and died a few days later of her injuries.

In Oceanside, California, a couple who neighbors say was going through a painful divorce was found dead in a murder-suicide officials in February this year.

Cynthia Carter, 50, was found dead on the floor of her apartment due to multiple sharp and blunt force injuries, according to police investigators. Investigators also found the body of her estranged husband nearby. David Sherville, 57, took his own life according to the county medical examiner’s office. Carter and Sherville were going through a painful divorce.

In this same column in October 2012, I wrote about Mary Shojai, who was was bludgeoned to death after she tried to break off a romantic relationship with her boyfriend. Paul Carl Tomasini was tried and convicted of Shojai’s death.

Shojai was a respected university administrator, 62 years old. Tomasini, 64, ran a handyman business. According to the San Diego County deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, Shojai and Tomasini had been dating three years. Shojai apparently tried to break off the relationship. She was scheduled to pick up a friend at the airport, but she failed to show up. When Shojai’s friend went to her home to find out where she was, she saw Tomasini inside Shojai’s home pacing up and down.

Both the friend and Tomasini called police, who found Shojai in a pool of blood on the floor, with the weapons Tomasini used nearby. An autopsy found Shojai had been struck 17 times.

Are you getting the picture? Multiply incidents in just one major metropolitan U.S. city by thousands more every year. These cases are far more common than people realize, and while other major crimes are decreasing, domestic violence murders are not.

Starting divorce proceedings or initiating the breakup of a romantic relationship is a significant trigger for domestic violence. The statistics speak for themselves:

  • Violence is the reason stated for one in five divorces.
  • Battered women seek medical attention for domestic violence injuries significantly more often after separation than during cohabitation.
  • About 75% of the visits to emergency rooms by battered women occur after separation.
  • Women who leave their batterers are at 75% greater risk of severe injury or death than those who stay. (Source: National Coalition Against Domestic Violence).

The two weeks after a woman files for divorce or initiates a breakup, cohabiting or not, is the time she is at greatest risk.

What should you do to protect yourself from being a victim BEFORE you file for divorce or initiates a breakup? You need to create an exit strategy. If there are children involved, it is even more critical to take precautions.

First, be sure you have a safe place to stay for a few weeks after you deliver the news about breaking up. Consider getting out ahead of time so you don’t have to return to the home you share. It may be wise to stay with a relative or a friend, out of town or somewhere your husband or boyfriend doesn’t know about. At the least, consider changing all of the locks on your residence if you don’t live together.

Deliver the news in a public place. You don’t want to humiliate someone, but with witnesses around the individual is far less likely to fly into a rage and harm you. If you’ve made sure you have a safe place for you and your children to go, you’re putting time and distance on your side until the other person can cool down.

Be especially careful going to and from your place of work. If you aren’t able to be located any other way, someone who wants to threaten you or do you bodily harm likely knows where you work and what times you arrive and leave. Take extra precautions. Ask security to escort you in and out of the building. Choose a different way to get to work or a different form of transportation. If you have time off available, consider using it.

I’m often asked whether women should get a restraining order first. Restraining orders are just pieces of paper; they will not magically protect you from someone so angry he or she would consider seriously harming you. Don’t count on one to keep you safe.

However, once you have initiated the breakup, a restraining order may provide law enforcement an additional tool to help you. Most states offer different types of restraining orders. In California, there are four types to protect victims and their families.

If you believe the situation has the potential to become extremely threatening or violent, consider putting yourself and your children into a shelter. If at anytime you feel unsafe call 911, stop a police officer in the street, or go to the nearest police station.

Maybe this drastic advice seems a little over the top to you. Perhaps you think it will seem foolish to take these kind of serious steps when nothing really bad has ever happened before. You should not hesitate. If there was ever a “better safe than sorry” moment, this is it. Crime statistics tells us that women need to be especially cautious when breaking up with someone or initiating a divorce. The risk to you and your children is too great to ignore.

Kassim Alhimidi faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted. But this is small comfort to his children, his wife’s family, and her friends and colleagues who have lost her to a violent act of rage.

Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for San Diego based law firm Fleischer & Ravreby with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Fleischer on Twitter @LawyerMyra Fleischer can be reached via Google+

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