Cassman’s murder may have been the result of a domestic violence dispute. A Maui Police Department (MPD) report issued on Friday, Sept. 9, stated that an autopsy revealed the cause of death to be asphyxiation. Police are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the 35-year-old Santa Cruz attorney’s death.
Coincidentally, friends of Carol Brown, a domestic violence advocate and member of the West Maui Domestic Violence Task Force (WMDVTF), were the ones who called 911 about the Cassman incident. At sunset, Brown said a distraught, elderly woman approached her friends, telling the group she had just come from a nearby location where a man was slamming a woman on the ground.
“Help me! He’s going to kill me!” the woman, who turned out to be Cassman, cried, as she threw the elderly woman her wallet and cell phone in what were to be her last moments of life.
Women Helping Women Domestic Violence Advocate Pema Gilman reacts to the Maui Police Department’s 2010 report on abuse of family or household members. “When home is no longer a safe place for women and children... that is serious. When fear is rampant in our homes... that is serious. And when the community accepts domestic violence as normal for any segment of the community... that is serious!”
But because the elderly woman could not get cell reception to call 911, she drove south, where she relayed the incident to Brown’s friends, who contacted the police.
This incident has captured the public’s attention, but a recent report issued by MPD on an analysis of 2010 reported incidents of the “Abuse of Family or Household Member” points to a situation on Maui regarding domestic violence that Lucy Feinberg, Maui regional director for PACT (Parents and Children Together), has called a “major public health problem facing communities across the U.S.”
According to the report, there was a 37 percent increase in the number of initial reported incidents of abuse of a family member or household member in Maui County for 2010. Of the 3,899 incidents of reported abuse in 2010, 421 resulted in an arrest. In 2009, there were 2,388 incidents of abuse, 451 of which resulted in an arrest.
The MPD has tracked domestic violence-related incidents since January 1992. According to the 2010 report, in 1992, there were 1,710 abuse cases reported. By 2010, that number had grown to the 3,899 reported cases of abuse, including 1,132 incidents of physical abuse and 2,767 incidents of household/family intervention by the police.
In addition, there were 457 violations of an Order for Protection issued by the courts to protect a victim from their abuser, commonly known as TRO’s or Temporary Restraining Orders. These violations resulted in 244 arrests.
Pema Gilman, a domestic violence advocate with Women Helping Women (WHW), also serves as the liaison with the WMDVTF. She believes the police report is an important document for the community.
“It’s important to get this report (out), because it gives service providers a statistical view of abuse in Maui County that might shed light on possible areas of the population that might need more outreach support,” Gilman said.
The police report notes that the average age of the arrestee in 2010 was 35.3 years of age, with the youngest being 15 and the oldest 70. Forty-two percent of those arrested in 2010 were under the age of 30. In 2009, the average age of the arrestee was 37.3 years old, with the youngest 13 and the oldest 80.
Those in the younger age category may represent abuse that occurs in dating relationships. Information provided by the Hawai‘i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that 10 percent of high school students have previously reported that they were hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or a girlfriend in the past year.
The average age of the victim in 2010 was 36.5, with the youngest being just 1 year old and the oldest 85. In 2009, the average age of the victim was 35.9 years.
The locations with the largest number of reported incidents of abuse of a family member or household member in 2010 were Wailuku with 20.4 percent, followed by Upcountry with 19.3 percent, Kïhei with 18.6 percent and Kahului with 16.8 percent.
In October, Maui domestic violence advocates, UH Maui College, WHW, PACT and the Maui Domestic Violence Task Forces of West Maui, Central Maui and Häna will mark “Domestic Violence Awareness month” with a series of programs and activities.
The reason for their efforts is clear. The murder of Cassman is not an isolated incident. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 1,200 deaths and 2 million injuries to women from intimate partner violence each year in the U.S. On average, three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends each day in this country as a result of a problem that affects all income, ethnic, racial and geographic lines.
To address this reality in Maui County, MPD maintains an active Domestic Violence Unit that conducts follow-up investigations for domestic violence reports, arrests perpetrators and provides services for victims. They do all they can with the resources they have, but they cannot do it alone.