Domestic Violence in Minnesota: Data and Solutions

Violence Free Minnesota (VFMN) released its latest homicide report, based on data from 2019 that details 21 people killed in the state because of domestic violence: 16 women killed by current or former intimate partners, three family members attempting to intervene, and two children shot alongside their mother in their front yard. At least 23 minor children are left without a parent due to intimate partner violence (IPV). Thus far in 2020, at least 22 people in Minnesota are known to have been killed due to domestic violence. 

The report details the intersection of schools, criminal and legal system, healthcare, and housing in the issue of relationship abuse. It details the data of 529 women, 22 men, 50 children, and 93 bystanders who have been killed in domestic violence since 1989. It also offers solutions to reduce the issues caused by domestic violence, which extends beyond intimate partner relationships to include other family members and bystanders.

Addressing Health, Youth, and Causes

In a news conference on October 1, 2020, the start of Domestic Violence Awareness month, Carolina Gentry, Mental Health Case Manager for Minnesota Community Care, commented on the need for culturally responsive behavioral healthcare and awareness. Survivors of IPV tend to have high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression that follow them as long-term issues.

Ivette Izea-Martinez

Ivette Izea-Martinez of Casa de Esperanza noted that pregnancy prevention curriculum is not working to teach young people about healthy relationships, and that schools are missing trusted sources to counsel students with culturally aware, trauma-informed mental health support. Disruptive behavior in classrooms is often punished without looking at what is happening in the home environment. Additionally, policies and protections for harassment tend to be in place if adults are involved, not if perpetrators are youth. “The reality is, it starts a lot younger than we might think,” she says. “We need boys in conversations about positive masculinity. Many want to be part of preventing violence, but don’t know how. We need to stop relying on only girls and women-identifying to prevent violence. It will take everyone. It’s not just about teen pregnancy prevention.”

Pheng Thao of ManForward indicated that anger management programs do not address the roots of power dynamics behind these cases. The report reminds us that economic abuse, isolation, gaslighting, and physical and sexual violence are all part of the power and control issues of perpetrators.

A high percentage of victims are afraid to call the police. The report states, “After 30 years of working with the criminal-legal system, it is time to re-evaluate whether criminal-legal responses are increasing safety, particularly for the most marginalized survivors.”

Recent Data Analysis

The number of deaths each year, since the report began tracking in 1989, range from 12 to 37. This year there already have been more deaths from domestic violence than in 2019, according to VFMN spokesperson Becky Smith, and crisis hotlines are reporting higher volume and severity of issues.

  • Nine of the women killed in 2019 were mothers. Several had been in the process of trying to leave their abuser. A 27-year-old victim was shot in front of her two-year-old daughter, shortly after they had moved out of the perpetrator’s house.
  • Nine of the victims lived in the Twin Cities metro, seven women lived in Greater Minnesota, in communities such as Woodbury, Sauk Rapids, New Brighton, Mounds View, Orono, Duluth, and Nevis. A 24-year-old woman died in Owatonna alongside a partner who had 17 assault charges and three felony domestic violence convictions.
  • Many victims were killed with guns. One perpetrator in Blaine shot his 46-year-old wife two months after firearms were removed from the home; he purchased a new gun the following month.
  • Many victims were first subjected to economic abuse — taking away financial resources makes it hard to find affordable housing, childcare, transportation, and food. Work absenteeism, lack of credit history, and housing evictions make it difficult for women to find the stability to leave abusive relationships. One victim was taken to court by a bank shortly before being killed.

Impact on Homelessness, Crime, and Children

The report indicates that IPV is a leading cause of homelessness for women and their children. The Homeless Management Information System data collected between 2005 and 2019 found that nearly 47,000 individuals who had experienced homelessness in Minnesota had also experienced domestic violence. The Wilder Research Center found in 2015 that domestic violence is one of the five leading causes of homelessness in the state.

Many women become offenders in the justice system, using retaliatory violence, acting in self-defense, or engaging in criminal behavior due to coping mechanisms such as addiction. One study by the Vera Institute found that 77 percent of incarcerated women have a history of intimate partner violence. Nearly one-third of adult women murdered by an intimate partner in 2019 had a criminal history.

Additionally, children who grow up as witnesses to violent environments can perpetuate the cycle in the future if they are not offered adequate trauma-informed support. Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) research demonstrates that exposure to domestic violence can increase risk for physical, mental health, and substance abuse. [See related story on ACES.]

Over three decades, 151 cases of domestic violence homicide in Minnesota occurred with a child witnessing the murder, not including adult children or those killed alongside their parent.

Variable Responses

The report indicated that there are varied responses to domestic violence and children, often determined by race:

  • Native children in abusive homes are more likely to be placed in foster care than white children.
  • Black children are more likely to be diagnosed with disruptive behavioral disorders than white children and “may be funneled into the juvenile justice system instead of receiving the mental health care they need to address trauma.”

Studies show that “children with multiple foster care placements, children removed from their homes between the ages of 12 and 15, and children supervised by probation have a greater risk of incarceration.”

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities tend to use informal kinship care — placing children with relatives without the intervention of the child welfare system — in order to preserve family and cultural connections, which lessens the disruption and instability of multiple placements and lack of culturally specific care.

Successful Community Interventions

Healthy Relationships bingo, a program of Casa de Esperanza

The Duluth Model has been a worldwide example of Batterer Intervention Programs (BIP) that reduce the rates of abusive behavior. It is an evidence-based prevention program, originating in 1981, that operates from the belief that battering is about a pattern of actions used to intentionally dominate an intimate partner. The educational model — it is not described as therapy — actively works to change societal conditions that support men’s use of power over women. It does not assume that IPV is caused by mental or behavioral health problems, substance use, anger, stress, or dysfunction. It offers group-facilitated exercises that challenge a perpetrator’s perception of entitlement to control his partner. It holds offenders accountable and takes blame off the victim.

According to “Current Research on Batterer Intervention Programs and Implications for Policy,” produced in 2017 on behalf of The Battered Women’s Justice Project in Minneapolis, the most successful BIPs “are embedded in communities with a highly functioning, well-resourced coordinated community response that holds men accountable and supports victim safety, autonomy and dignity.”

Another local program with a successful rate of reduction in harm is the Refuge Network program at Family Pathways based out of North Branch, which covers Central Minnesota counties.

Since 1989, Eugene, Oregon, has had a mental-health first response initiative that includes a medic and a crisis worker who serve as community policing for issues involving mental health, homelessness, and addition, launched by the White Bird Clinic.

California has proposed a Community Response Initiative to Strengthen Emergency Systems (CRISES) Act to enhance community responses to IPV, homelessness, mental health crisis, and other emergencies that would strengthen alternatives to law enforcement, especially in communities that experience racial profiling and police violence


The VFMN report offers 11 pages of recommendations. To truly transform justice, Katie Kramer, Policy Director of Violence Free Minnesota, outlined a few of them at the news conference:

  • Healthcare: Use assessment practices and education with patients around healthy relationships and domestic violence using the Futures Without Violence curriculum. Require training to identify domestic and sexual violence and reproductive coercion for healthcare providers funded by the Minnesota Department of Health.
  • Housing: Offer tenant protection laws and better access to affordable housing regardless of past evictions, criminal history, poor credit, and other issues often tied to abusive environments, which improves a victim’s ability to leave. From the report: Support low-barrier, direct cash assistance to victims for rent, utilities, and childcare to lead to financial stability. VFMN offers an economic empowerment program to help survivors learn how to manage debt, strengthen credit, and build income. Create housing assistance programs shaped by those with lived experience that are survivor-centered and culturally specific. Return protections to transgender individuals, people with disabilities, and undocumented immigrants.
  • Schools: Shift funding from school officers to trauma-support counselors and culturally specific resources such as wellness practices, healing ceremonies, art therapy, and alternative justice. “Offer restorative, and not disciplinary approaches to disruptive behaviors. Expulsion should happen rarely,” says Kramer.

Holding perpetrators accountable with behavioral intervention, and offering transformative services to change patterns, can improve safety, Kramer indicates, and should be more adequately funded. “There is funding for handling a crisis, and advocacy after violence, but not much for programming to change the behavior of those who use violence,” she says. “To prevent future violence it takes a sustained investment.”

She says the pandemic has made addressing domestic violence an essential service, and requires a $20 million investment in services to reduce violent behaviors and address the long-term impact of IPV.

Details: Founded in 1978, Violence Free Minnesota is a statewide coalition of over 90 member programs working together to end relationship abuse.

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