Threatening weather events compound stormy relationships

Experts share tips at the fifth annual Domestic Violence Awareness Fair

Sanoe Kaaihue, executive director of Women Helping Women Maui, speaks with Maui police Sgt. Edith Quintero of the domestic violence unit Saturday afternoon at Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center during the 5th annual Domestic Violence Awareness Fair -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

KAHULUI — The threat of hurricanes Lane and Olivia hitting the island apparently exacerbated tensions in unhealthy relationships, as Maui’s domestic violence shelter saw an uptick of refuge-seekers during those two storms.

Day-to-day issues may trouble a relationship, and adding the threat of a storm “makes it even more so” stressful, said Sanoe Kaaihue, executive director of Women Helping Women, which runs the 24-hour shelter.

The shelter, which can accommodate 26 people, saw almost double that number during the storms, she said Saturday morning during the fifth annual Domestic Violence Awareness Fair at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. It was coordinated by the County of Maui Committee on the Status of Women.

Kaaihue said they were one of the, if not the only, domestic violence shelters in the state that was fully prepared to weather the storms: They have enough storage for extra food and supplies, along with generators and 24-hour staff.

“The residents are never alone,” she said of the shelter, whose address is not publicized in order to protect clients.

Dani Riggs, clinical director of Maui’s Child & Family Service (seated), speaks to Lara Farina, community outreach coordinator for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands on Saturday afternoon at Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center during the 5th annual Domestic Violence Awareness Fair. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Some shelter-seekers slept on couches during the weather threats.

“We made accommodations where we can,” she said.

Client numbers have dropped at the shelter since the storms passed, although there are still around 30 people, four more than it can most comfortably fit.

“We are still busy,” Kaaihue said. “Going into the holidays we are getting busier.”

The holiday season brings other stresses, such as money issues, meeting with relatives who are not seen frequently and the overall holiday stress that most people feel, Kaaihue said.

Various organizations participated in the 5th annual Domestic Violence Awareness Fair at the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center on Saturday. It was organized by the County of Maui Committee on the Status of Women. -- The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Overall, more people are reporting domestic violence issues, whether they be victims or neighbors or family members, Kaaihue said.

In August, Women Helping Women served 8,000 meals and had 800 stays in its shelter.

These are not the highest totals for a month, but they are high, she said.

Numbers for domestic violence services vary from year to year, according to the National Census of Domestic Violence Services.

On Sept. 13, 2017, survey day for Hawaii, 288 victims were served, with 177 adults and children finding refuge in emergency shelters or transitional housing provided by local domestic violence programs. Another 111 adult and child victims received nonresidential assistance and services, including counseling, legal advocacy and children’s support groups.

There were 63 domestic violence hotline calls answered that day.

All nine of the identified domestic violence programs in Hawaii participated in the survey.

On Sept. 14, 2016, 447 victims were served in Hawaii, with 88 domestic violence victims finding refuge in emergency shelters or transitional housing and 359 victims receiving nonresidential services.

On the day of the 2016 survey, 59 hotline calls answered.

That survey included 10 of the 18 identified domestic violence programs in Hawaii.

Overall, Kaaihue said, “I think people are getting smarter. They are learning there are agencies like us.”

Dani Riggs, clinical director at Child and Family Services, which also runs the Maui Sexual Assault Center, stressed to the general public that it’s not easy for victims to get help.

It might take a domestic violence victim seven or eight attempts to finally get out of a bad relationship.

“They are really complicated,” Riggs said Saturday, when his organization was among the participants at the fair.

Reasons people might stay in a bad relationship include genuine feelings of love, financial stability, as well as a need for one’s children to have both parents around.

For those who do not understand why a victim will not leave immediately, he pointed out that things are not all black and white when one is in love or in a relationship.

He noted that domestic violence also occurs against men and in the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and questioning populations.

If one gets out of a relationship, the most dangerous time for that victim is at about six months after he or she gets out, Riggs said.

At that time, the perpetrator is very upset and sometimes feels he or she has nothing left since the victim is gone.

Riggs agreed that an example of a victim who distanced herself only to be harmed again by the perpetrator is the case of Stephen B. Schmidt. He pleaded no contest last month in connection with the fatal stabbing of his estranged wife, 24-year-old Kehau Farias Schmidt, at the Foodland Kehalani store in 2016.

Schmidt also stabbed others in the store who tried to intervene.

The prosecution is recommending the 47-year-old Kahului man be sentenced to concurrent terms of life in prison with the possibility of parole for the killing and the stabbings. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 20.

The victim had a temporary restraining order against Schmidt.

Riggs said victims should seek out the right support and also have a safety plan done with an expert in the field. The expertise can be found at Child and Family Services and other agencies.

Kaaihue said she wanted victims to know that they “are not alone” and “help is out there.”

She said people can call the 24-hour crisis hotline at 579-9581.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at