Four Advocates Talk About How Minnesota Can Address Gender-Based Violence Collectively

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. 


At Minnesota Women’s Press, we believe the role of media is to help elevate conversations that can lead to policy changes and provide resources to grassroots organizations that are working on solutions before an emergency response is required. We believe that by talking with — not simply to — community, a shift in culture mindsets can finally become more effective at dealing with everyday traumas that people face: financially, emotionally, logistically. The commitment to coverage about this topic led to the award-winning Addressing Gender-Based Violence series.

Following is a summarized video clip of the conversation we had at our April event. We now are working with community partners around the state to host community discussions, based partly on a pilot discussion guide we created together, and tailored for each community. First up: Burnsville in July, followed by Marshall. Please support this important work by becoming a Badass member.

We cannot expand and report on these conversations without you.



Excerpts from the conversation


Cover of the “Re-Imagining Public Safety” discussion guide focused on encouraging informed discussions and reflections about gender-based violence

Mikki Morrissette, Minnesota Women’s Press

We have been working on putting the stories we’ve been doing about gender-based violence into an eight-page document with discussion questions and action steps. This is one of the things we want to take around the state. I want to bring up some of the people that have been involved. We’ve been working together since last year’s event to figure out how to make a bigger dent. 


Patricia Cumbie, Global Rights for Women

I want to express gratitude to you all for being here for your passion and commitment to ending gender-based violence, and also to the Minnesota Women’s Press, which has been an incredible partner. I can’t think of another news organization that’s putting their heart and soul into having ground-breaking and state-changing conversations. 

Last year, we released a report that Global Rights for Women had spent two years researching, about the Minneapolis Police Department’s response to domestic violence. We identified a number of gaps in terms of how survivors are treated when they reach out for help. There’s a lot to do in terms of addressing systems change. But we carry out our work with a lot of hope because of people like you. I really hope that you take the time to ask yourselves the questions and do some of the things that we need to do to improve the response to survivors when they reach out for help. 

Sample Discussion Questions
• When you hear about domestic violence, is your instinct to wonder why the victim chose to stay in the relationship or is to wonder why the person being abusive chose to behave that way?
• What did you learn about roles for men and women from your caregivers?
• What are the gender role expectations in your community today? If change is needed, how might that happen?
• In times of fear, loss of control, or helplessness — or simply feeling hurt by a friend — what did you need to recover and heal? What did accountability look like for you?
• How can we re-envision holding people who cause harm accountable and supporting victims? What do you think leads to behavior changes that improves public safety?
• Given that the majority of incarcerated people will eventually be released from prison and returned to society, what role should prison play in rehabilitation and behavior change?


PaHoua Vang, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault

This guide is a start of what we want to do to change the culture around gender-based violence. People abuse because they can. And that’s not because it’s the victim’s fault. It’s not because the victim should have known better. It’s not because they didn’t try hard enough to stop it. It’s not because she was asking for it. If our initial thoughts are to question why the victim didn’t do x, y, z, we are engaging in deep-rooted victim blaming behavior. We need to look at what caused this person to do the harm. 

This violence is deeply rooted in oppression, power, control, sexism, racism, white supremacy, ableism, ageism, and a lot of unhealed trauma. Everyone — victims, families, friends, communities, and people who have done harm — all deserve healing. 

In no other public safety responses do we expect volunteers to be answering crisis calls. Why do we expect volunteer advocates to show up in the hospital in the middle of the night for a sexual assault exam to support the victim survivor? Why do we say this work is important for public safety and then expect nonprofits to fundraise for themselves, apply for multiple grants, and be told these grants are going away, which is happening right now. We are seeing programs that are being closed, or having to cut and reduce their services. 

We need a culture change to acknowledge that [gender-based violence] is preventable, that this work matters, and to spark different conversations — because this work has been around for a long time. What I don’t want to see is that 25 years from now, we are in the same place. 

These conversations start with the people in this room, to have these conversations with our communities, with our families, with our peers, and to really shift the culture away from individual issues to really acknowledge the impact and the responsibility of community members.

Nikki Engel, Violence Free Minnesota

After the Burnsville shootings [of emergency responders to a domestic violence call], I witnessed the way the public social response to the homicides. With our coalition, we were frustrated. We didn’t begrudge the public outcry, the public mourning of those three responders. But our question was, why is this not the response to [all domestic violence] homicide victims?

Last year was the highest number of intimate partner homicides since we began tracking: 39. There was a period of two weeks last summer where we lost eight or nine people in two weeks. There’s just no public outcry akin to what those three first responders received. We do want that response for folks who are killed as they’re doing their job — no one should ever be killed doing their job. But at the same time, the victims are also as innocent as folks who went to work that day and didn’t come home. 

It’s part of the social change that needs to happen. As we were working with the Minnesota Women’s Press on this guide, something we kept coming back to was that there are lots of conversations we need to have with folks … and around our kitchen tables. 

For the past few years, Violence Free Minnesota has been arguing that survivors deserve more options. What we give survivors right now are the criminal justice system: call 911. We have advocates that are well skilled, helping survivors try to navigate that system. Or, we ask them to reach out to victim services, jump through this hoop, go to the county to try to get your needs met [with their limited resources]. Those are the only options we give survivors. 

We know so many survivors who went through a criminal process and find themselves no safer. They don’t feel healed. Survivors deserve more options than what we currently have invested in as a society.

We support restorative justice, transformative justice, and alternative approaches to addressing this violence in our communities.

Morrissette, Minnesota Women’s Press

I think it was Guadalupe Lopez [executive director of Violence Free Minnesota] last year on this stage who said peer-to-peer advising that can happen is incredibly valuable — when survivors can talk to other survivors — but they get more money at working at Walmart, so they don’t really stay in the role that long. That’s one of the things we would love to see the advocates be able to change. 

Rosario de la Torre, Esperanza United

Survivors have the right to call the police or go to a shelter. Our communities, survivors, women, and children need much more than that. I started at Esperanza 22 years ago. In the last 10 years, we have been doing a lot of the prevention work. We are going to continue to do intervention work —  housing options have to be available. Former Senator Patricia Torres is here; my newest experience was working in the legislature, which just passed new legislation [to create a task force to learn the root causes of violence affecting Latine families]. Now we just need to find the money. 

Prevention is so important. We have to change the narrative. We need community to really be part of the change and help community organizations do the work. We need to start creating prevention approaches — not programs — that can help us to raise our children, our society, our families, to have conversations.

Of the 39 people who lost their lives [in 2023], two were very close to me. One was a very active community member. One was there to defend his sister. It just never stops, new people who lose their lives.

Be part of this movement. We can all be involved. We can really make changes together.


Morrissette, Minnesota Women’s Press

Our hope is to have coordinators in different cities around the state to help us have conversations in their communities. Write me at

One of the action steps in the discussion guide is related to the Survivors Justice Act — to have trauma-informed sentencing for people who have suffered from gender-based violence, sexual assault, and other abuse that has affected them. 

Deneal’s team is here. They will do a reading from her play “Secrets,” which is about trauma that impacts a majority of women who have been imprisoned instead of healed at Shakopee Women’s Prison. We’re taping it so that they can share it for future appearances they would like to do. They’re actively looking for sponsors and donations to help them do a lot more with it.




What you can do now

  1. Become a badass member to support these statewide conversations
  2. Sign up to be engaged in future discussions in your area by getting “Alerts: Gender-Based Violence”
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