This is one of an occasional post from Margaret Epperheimer, a seven-year member of Next Door’s Board of Directors.

The holiday lights and menorah are stored. The pine needles are vacuumed away, and the kids are back in school. Most of us had time to pause, take a break and enjoy. Not so, for those living with domestic violence.

In fact, this holiday season was particularly violent, starting with a tragic murder-suicide the weekend after Thanksgiving. That’s when Chris Shimek, a San Jose Police Department sergeant, strangled his wife Lynn and shot himself, leaving behind two teenage sons. Lynn had asked for a divorce just weeks before.

Prophetically, Rolanda Pierre Dixon, a retired Santa Clara County prosecutor and head of the county’s Domestic Violence Council, wrote an opinion piece for the San Jose Mercury News that appeared December 22. She reminded us “domestic violence doesn’t celebrate the holidays.”  In fact, many victims say the holidays increase the violence, according to Dixon, who wrote: “It doesn’t care if you are homeless or rich, gay or straight, male or female.” (

Sure enough, a little more than a week later, on December 30, San Jose registered its 41st and final homicide of 2011. A horrific domestic violence killing took the life of Yvonne Kirk, the 65-year-old mother of Minema Kirk whose same-sex marriage to Sagal Mohamod Sadiq had gone sour.

Sadiq, a Somali native and long-time nurse, is charged with using a machete to kill her mother-in-law in a bloody rampage.  Minema Kirk was said to be in Puerto Rico at the time of the slaying and had messaged her partner she was “done.” Of the 11 domestic violence-related killings in Santa Clara County in 2011, Sadiq is the only woman suspected of being the attacker. Her case goes to court January 19.

The common factor in both the Shimek and Kirk tragedies was a declaration the relationship was over. Domestic violence experts tell us the need for power and control is the primary motivator for violence directed against an intimate partner or their family members. And they say leaving is the time of highest risk for serious injury or death.

Reminder #1: Domestic violence doesn’t take a holiday. Domestic violence is an every-day, round-the-clock occurrence that may actually increase during the holidays – a time focused on families, relationships, joy and celebration.

Reminder #2: Leaving a troubled relationship characterized by abusive power and control can be a particularly risky (even lethal) proposition. In fact, Patty Bennett, Director of Program Services at Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence, advises victims never to tell their partner they are leaving, or even thinking of leaving. If you or someone you know needs to escape an abusive relationship, call Next Door’s 24-hour hotline (408-279-2962) first. Domestic violence advocates answer the phones. They are experts in safety and escape planning. This is serious business. A life could depend on it.