Commentary: It’s Past Time to Talk and Write Much Better About Gender-Based Violence

Thanks to Minneapolis Foundation for enabling us to continue deeper content and discussions about gender-based violence in 2024. Our gender-based violence stories and conversations won a 2023 community service leadership award from the Minnesota Newspaper Association. 

Front page coverage from the Star Tribune

The instinct of traditional news is to cover breaking events, reveal fault lines in government, and dedicate real estate to subscribers who care about sports, business, lifestyle stories, obituaries, and puzzles. When a large headline announces the very tragic news that three emergency responders were killed in Burnsville while dealing with a domestic violence call, what is not being covered in that moment is:

  1. “Man Who Terrorized Women and Children for Years Kills Three Emergency Responders in Burnsville” — How women and children have been impacted by this violent man in previous years, which is behavior so common that it is not considered worthy of attention;
  2. “Who Steps Up to Care for the Seven Children Who Witnessed This Violence?” — Who is serving women and children for the trauma they have experienced, as part of a long-term solution to better community health rather than expecting them to have the resources to find therapeutic healing on their own;
  3. “Judge Dannia Edwards Rejected Plea By Violent Man to Own Guns Legally” — The story of judge Dannia Edwards who denied the Burnsville man’s legal rights to own guns after previous violence, when he made an appeal in 2020 that he was a changed man because of anger management classes (which tends not to be the solution for gender-based violence, caused less by anger than the need to control people — domestic violence perpetrators tend not to treat coworkers the way they treat people inside the home);
  4. “Judge Gave Violent Man Primary Custody of Children” — This abusive man was given primary custody of three of his children, after an ex-partner left him because of violence;
  5. “When and How Can Violent Behavior Be Corrected: An Ongoing Series” — The very difficult tension among anyone who wants to find ways to correct adult violence and the fears of those who believe violence cannot be cured;
  6. “Prison or Suicide: The Only Solutions to Violence, After the Fact?” — The passive fallback position seems to be that prison — or suicide after a standoff with police, as happened in Burnsville — is the only solution, after partners and children have already been traumatized over a long period of time;
  7. “The 39 Minnesotans Killed by Domestic Violence in 2023” — The stories of 39 Minnesota domestic violence homicides, which did not get the same attention as the deaths of Burnsville emergency responders;
  8. “It Is Too Hard to Work on Solutions, Say Some Experts, But Not Others” — Why does teaching healthy masculinity (domestic violence is primarily, though not always, perpetrated by men) and reducing the proliferation of illegal guns seem to be harder to address than simply telling the stories of a handful of domestic violence cases each year?

At Minnesota Women’s Press, we believe the role of media is to help elevate conversations that can lead to policy changes and providing resources to grassroots organizations working on authentic solutions. We believe media can do much better in regards to attention paid to gender-based violence.

As we have reported, domestic violence is much more common than other criminal behavior, like homicides and car-jackings.

A primary goal of our April 13 event — which will celebrate Badass Minnesotans and our magazine’s “39 Years of Voice & Vision” — is to reveal the ongoing work we have been doing with people who are trying to transform the way we define and approach public safety.

We will share the bullet points of a discussion guide series focused on the most prevalent public safety behaviors that need to be corrected, including gender-based violence and, essentially, that guns and drugs are easier to access than safe and affordable housing and trauma care.

We will invite the Badass membership community to participate in focus group conversations in the coming months. With the help of underwriters, we will host in-person discussions around the state. Then we will publicly share a discussion guide that has been tested and refined so that anyone can talk collectively, and more impactfully, about solutions to public safety issues.

Our role — as a media platform that shares first-person narratives and group discussions about what ails communities — is to build toward public consensus about the time and resources that should be invested, region by region, in approaches to issues that have not been solved over decades. Our growing group of Changemakers Alliance underwriting partners are enabling us to cover stories that impact the lives of everyday Minnesotans.

One of Our Community Partners

Playwright Deneal Trueblood-Lynch (l) and Guadalupe Lopez of Violence Free Minnesota talked about the importance of decriminalizing trauma survivors at our April 2023 event. Both will be featured at our April 2024 event. (Photo Sarah Whiting)

For the past year, we have been connecting with Violence Free Minnesota. This is a statement they released about the deaths that occurred in Burnsville on February 18 during a domestic violence call.

Adam Finseth, Paul Elmstrand, and Matthew Ruge will be included in our 2024 Intimate Partner Homicide Report as the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th confirmed victims of intimate partner homicide in Minnesota in 2024.

As the only agency in Minnesota to capture the full scope of intimate partner homicide in our state since 1989, we seek to draw attention to the broader context of this tragedy, which requires a gendered analysis of violence overlooked by the media. The suspect in this shooting felt entitled to hold his female partner and children hostage for hours, causing unfathomable trauma to his family whose experiences, and the voices of domestic violence experts, have largely been omitted from reporting.

The lives of a woman and seven children are forever changed. Several children witnessed the shooting, and some witnessed the suspect end his life. These are the stories that are not being told.

Adam Finseth, Paul Elmstrand, and Matthew Ruge were not killed in a targeted police attack; they were killed because a man barricading his family felt threatened by attempts to undermine his power and control over them. Furthermore, he was legally prohibited from possessing a firearm, yet was found with several. Nearly every year in Minnesota and nationwide, men who kill their female partners overwhelmingly do so by firearm.

He allegedly had a history of domestic violence against multiple previous female partners, including violence so severe one woman stated she believed he would eventually kill her, and yet a court dismissed her allegations. Despite his history of violence, when he and his ex-girlfriend went to court over custody, the judge ordered shared custody and ordered their three children to stay with him two-thirds of the time. These children were three of the seven children he held hostage on February 18.

We must emphasize that this shooting was preventable. Misogyny and firearms together are deadly. Not believing women is deadly. Not investing in Domestic Abuse Transformation Programming and prevention of abuse is deadly. Any coverage of or conversation about this shooting that neglects to place it within a context of gender-based violence, and any outrage at this tragedy that does not include outrage at its context, does victim/survivors, particularly women, an immense disservice.

For over 30 years, Violence Free Minnesota has documented intimate partner homicides in our annual Homicide Report: Relationship Abuse in Minnesota. At least 830 victims, the vast majority women, have been killed due to relationship abuse in our state since 1989. Of the 261 people killed since 2014, forty-six were bystanders/intervenors. Of those forty-six bystanders/intervenors, only four were police, including the two officers killed in Burnsville.

We do not aim to minimize these officers’ deaths, but to expand public narratives of domestic violence in Minnesota, who it most impacts, and who it most endangers. The Burnsville shooting comes on the heels of at least 39 lives lost due to relationship abuse in 2023, the highest number we have recorded since 1989. Many of these victims will never receive a public outpouring of recognition.

There is a profound tiredness in recognizing that every year domestic violence victims in our state are murdered brutally and with little public outcry, and that we continue to call for the same policy recommendations to prevent these deaths year after year.

Many of the same elected officials and system partners who have been vocal about this shooting will not read our Homicide Reports, will not attend our annual memorials, will not invest in advocacy services, and will not prioritize the safety of survivors when survivors tell them what they need to be safe. They will not have conversations about domestic violence outside of this shooting, even as advocates raise awareness of an increase in the severity of violence without adequate funding in return.

They will voice the names of these three victims, but not the names of any women from the past 34 years.

Relationship abuse exists 365 days a year and deserves proportionate recognition. In our 30-Year Retrospective Report, we called attention to the community impact of domestic violence as a public health issue with extensive ripple effects. Our schools, hospitals, workplaces, places of worship, and neighborhoods are all impacted in some form. The families of the first responders and the families of the women and children are all affected. The circle of impact caused by domestic violence touches everyone. It is a through-line across all our communities.

We also call attention to the incredible importance of community-based advocates, who work tirelessly 24/7, 365 days a year to provide lifesaving support to victim/survivors, even after systems professionals cease to be involved and even as their work receives a fraction of the funding and recognition of law enforcement. As experts on domestic violence, their prevention and intervention work is critical, yet their expertise is often left unconsidered.

The gravity of investing in alternative responses to the criminal legal system cannot be understated, and has remained a call to action for decades now, particularly from Black and Indigenous leaders in our movement. When community-based advocacy is adequately funded and resourced, survivor and community safety increase and domestic violence calls to police decrease.

As we mourn the losses of Adam Finseth, Paul Elmstrand, and Matthew Ruge, we also call on our community — including our elected officials and reporters — to ensure that the context of their homicides does not go unspoken and that the female survivors and children be granted the care and consideration they deserve.

Achieving a violence-free Minnesota demands that we explicitly name domestic violence when and where it occurs, and that it remains a matter of community action before, during, and after tragedies like these — not just when first responders are killed in their attempts to assist.

If you are experiencing abuse, please contact DayOne at 866-223-1111 to connect with services. A list of Domestic Abuse Transformation Programs that serve Minnesotans using harm in their relationships can be found at vfmn.org/find-a-datp-program.



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