The unpredictable math of fatal domestic violence: Phillip Morris

December 16, 2018 GMT

The unpredictable math of fatal domestic violence: Phillip Morris

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Few people know more about the plague of domestic violence than Alexandria Ruden, a veteran attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. For decades, Ruden has played an important role in shaping Ohio’s domestic violence laws, while also writing and lecturing extensively about the topic.

Friday morning, she asked me a rhetorical question that made my blood run cold.

“How can we predict the killers?

“We can’t,” she said, answering her question.

“Let’s say you put 10 domestic abusers in a room. You tell me that five of the abusers will beat the (crap) out of their partners but stop short of killing them. Then, you tell me that four of the remaining five will savagely attack their partner, but that only one will kill. I honestly don’t know who that killer would be.


“I’m not trying to make the challenges of domestic violence sound hopeless, because they’re not. We are getting much better at predicting risk. As a society, we are figuring out interventions and systems that work. But, if I knew the formula for identifying killers before they kill, I would be a very wealthy woman,” said Ruden.

Call it the unpredictable math of fatal domestic violence. On average, nearly three American women are killed every day by a husband, boyfriend or former intimate partner. More than half of all female homicide victims in the United States die at the hands of someone they once considered a partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Intimate partner violence is a raging public health crisis that affects all races, socio-economic classes and geographic settings in America.

Greater Cleveland was shaken last month when Aisha Fraser, 45, was stabbed to death in a driveway, after dropping off her young daughters in a pre-arranged custodial transfer. Prosecutors have charged former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Lance Mason with aggravated murder in connection with the death. Mason was under court orders not to have any contact with Fraser. She had divorced Mason in 2015 and reclaimed her maiden name. Fraser, a popular school teacher in the Shaker Heights City School District, had moved on with her life.

Which begs a haunting question:

Is it ever too late to safely exit a toxic relationship?

That was the point of my telephone call to Ruden. I wanted to know the early triggers or tripwires that portend future abuse – if not death.


A number of recent news reports have mentioned a questionnaire that some first responders use when responding to suspected abuse. If law enforcement officers discover that a suspected abuser has a gun or has ever threatened violence against a spouse or their children, the officer will take extreme caution. He or she will take decisive steps to put the victim in touch with a domestic violence hotline or offer suggestions for their exit to a safe place.

But what if it is already too late at that point? What are the much earlier warning signs that a relationship could turn dangerous and physically violent?

Here are just a few telltale signs that Ruden offered, any of which she says are serious flags for concern:

Are you afraid of angering your partner?

Does your partner have an unpredictable temper?

Do you avoid saying things out of fear that you may anger your partner?

Do you feel like you’re the one that can’t do anything right?

Does your partner routinely insult you or embarrass you?

Does your partner ever threaten to hurt or kill themselves when you argue?

Is your partner possessive?

Does your partner always need to know and track your whereabouts?

Does your partner control or strictly limit your access to money?

“I guess the most important question that a person must consider is whether they believe their partner could kill them. That’s a hard question. It’s a question we as professionals always ask and listen very closely to the response,” said Ruden.

“Normal couples fuss and argue over everyday stuff. But it’s different when your partner blames you for their abusive behavior. If they blame you for overcooking their spaghetti then become physically abusive, it’s time to seriously consider the health of the relationship and whether you should remain in it.”

Anyone looking for discreet counseling or help in escaping a physically abusive relationship is encouraged to contact the Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center at 216-391-4357.