On October 25, 2002, when a plane crash claimed the lives of Senator Paul and Sheila Wellstone, the state lost strong advocates against gender-based violence. Sheila Wellstone brought the conversation about violence within the home into the open, conducting listening sessions around Minnesota before taking those lessons to the U.S. Congress. In 1994, thanks partly to her work, the Violence Against Women Act was passed as the first comprehensive federal legislation designed to end violence against women.
As we prepared this magazine theme on gender-based violence, we put out the call for insights about how Minnesota has and has not made progress in the past few decades. We also found past coverage in Minnesota Women’s Press pages.
More than half of the women murdered in the U.S. are killed by a spouse or boyfriend, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. Yet “date rape” still tends to be considered less important, or believable, than “stranger rape” (referred to as “legitimate rape” by former Missouri Rep. Todd Akin). The “strangers in the shadows” myth was used recently by Texas governor Greg Abbott, who defended abolishing abortion rights for victims of rape and incest by promising to eliminate rapists from the streets.
A Gender Policy Report essay published by the University of Minnesota in 2020 says: “While the ‘protection from them’ narrative imagines threats coming from outsiders, FBI data from 2017 show that the number of victims killed by family members or someone else they knew accounted for at least 40 percent of homicides.”
In 1975, the pioneering Minnesota Program for Victims of Sexual Assault began to assist those working directly with victims. Sensitivity training was mandated for medical and legal professionals. The program was the first statewide program of its kind in the nation. In 1984, the Minneapolis Intervention Project (MIP) was organized to offer community-coordinated responses to domestic violence. Teams of female volunteers were dispatched with police to sites of domestic abuse. During MIP’s first year, 62 percent of offenders were ordered into counseling and 45 percent into treatment — up from 14 percent.
Yet today we are still seeking enough funding to reduce gender-based violence with these types of programs. Violence prevention in general remains underfunded. In Minneapolis, for example, the police department has a budget of $180 million in 2021, and the newly enhanced budget for the Office of Violence Prevention is $7.4 million.
Currently, political pressure — and increased pandemic- related federal aid — is leading to more funding for crisis response that goes beyond law enforcement. A few social workers can do ridealongs with police and offer help afterward related to domestic violence, assault, mental health, and substance use. Hennepin County and 12 cities had $969,000 budgeted in 2020 for embedded social workers. In 2022, a $1.3 million budget will serve 29 cities.
“Trauma informed” is a term used more frequently in new legislation and training, which is a positive step. I wonder, however, how long we will invest in addressing the actual causes of violence and crime — and how much we will truly invest? We have known for more than a century that punishment by incarceration is a short-term approach, and policing has failed to curb violence and substance use.
The prosecutors, police, advocates, treatment providers, and survivors in these pages are attempting to address increasing incidents of gender-based violence over the past few years with the budgets they have.
Much of the heavy trauma and caregiving work continues to be done by underpaid women and volunteers.
If you want to be part of future statewide discussions we will host in 2022 about trauma and other key issues, visit womenspress.com/changemakers-alliance.
Politics & Policy — Global Rights for Women: Domestic Violence
Perspective — Kate Foley: Reporting Assault
Healing Trauma — SOS: The Role of Advocates
Education — Esperanza United and Sen. Mary Kunesh: Minnesota Focuses on Seeing Trauma
Money & Business — Maximum Capacity
Tapestry — What Does Healing Mean to Me?
Art of Living — Surelle Schewe: Healing Through Creation
Art of Living — Lori Greene: A Place to Be Seen
BookShelf — Chris Stark: Writing for Generations
Thoughts — Chante Wolf: Barracks Night
Suggested Resources — Related to Gender-based Violence