Setting Up Gender-Based Violence Issues and Solutions

Global Rights for Women: Economic Abuse and Reproductive Oppression

Minneapolis-based Global Rights for Women (GRW) centers discussions worldwide on resolving gender-based violence. Although it is less discussed, GRW points out that the most common form of abuse is financial. This can involve taking a victim’s paycheck, ruining their credit history, denying their right to a bank account, and limiting their access to employment, transportation, and child care. This is often why victims stay with or return to their partner.

GRW produces the Valiant Voices podcast. A recent discussion was about “The Intersections of Reproductive Oppression, Gender-Based Violence, and Survivor Justice.” GRW executive director Cheryl Thomas said that many sexual assault victims become pregnant.

According to an American College of Preventive Medicine report in 2018, almost 2.9 million U.S. women experience pregnancy that resulted from rape during their lifetime, the majority from a current or former intimate partner.

A 2022 Harvard public health report indicated that women in the U.S. who are pregnant or who have recently given birth are more likely to be murdered by an intimate partner than to die from obstetric causes.

Homicide a Leading Cause of Death for Pregnant U.S. Women,” October 20, 2022

Phyllis Wheatley Center: Normalization of Violence

Katy Nelson sees the impact of domestic violence especially in Black communities in her role at Phyllis Wheatley Community Center. She points out that many offenders are exposed to violence as children. “That exposure has a desensitizing effect that normalizes violence as an effective vehicle to gain control over something in an uncontrollable world,” she says.

Nelson points out that many victims who have been highly traumatized do not trust law enforcement. Some fear deportation or arrest. “Black women who call for help when they aren’t safe often end up being arrested because they have an infraction against them.”

criminalization of victims

Minnesota’s Homeless Management Information System analyzed data from 2005 to 2019 and found that 46,961 people who experienced homelessness were domestic violence victims.

The link between brain injuries and intimate partner violence

These excerpts from a story by The Guardian were added April 8, 2023

Survivors themselves may fail to realize the true cause of their lives falling apart — behavior that may result in eviction from a refuge, a failure to navigate benefits, housing, employment and the loss of a child because of perceived “failings” as a mother. “Taking the children away and giving them to the abuser, what sense does that make?” asks neuroscientist Dr. Eve Valera. In the 1990s she was studying neuropsychology while volunteering in a women’s shelter where users were reporting many post-concussive symptoms. Valera made the link. “I heard what the women were saying. Shockingly, my search for literature on this topic yielded zero results.”

Undaunted, and unable to acquire proper funding, Valera conducted her own research “on a shoestring.” She interviewed 99 women in a shelter: 75 percent reported at least one brain injury sustained from partners, half reported sometimes many more. Interviewees had major cognitive difficulties and suffered from high levels of anxiety and depression.

Thirty years later Valera points out that while there has been lavish funding and a plethora of concussion-related research into “punch drunk syndrome” in boxing and a range of other sports and the military, the connection between battered women and brain injury has only just begun to attract attention. Why the delay?

“We live in a patriarchal society and women are still second class,” Valera says. “We aren’t given the same appreciation in science. Males, including in animal research, are studied far more than females.” Valera also points out that while athletics makes money, dealing with the aftermath of male violence does not. “Money is key.”

Violence Free Minnesota: Intimate Partner Homicides

According to the most recent annual Homicide Report: Relationship Abuse in Minnesota, produced by Violence Free Minnesota (VFMN), in 2021 there were 26 known homicides in Minnesota due to relationship abuse. At least 28 minor children were left without a parent as a result. The report states that 45 percent of the homicide victims were separated or attempting to leave, 60 percent had a documented history of violence, and 55 percent of the homicides involved a gun. The 24 homicides known about in 2022 will be detailed in an annual report released in October.

Joe Shannon. Photo Sarah Whiting

According to VFMN’s 30-year retrospective, which tracked data from 1989 to 2018, of 523 Minnesota women killed by an intimate partner, 48 percent were killed by firearms.

VFMN communications director Joe Shannon tracks the prevalence of guns used in intimate partner homicides. “One of the four risk factors that we have identified is how simply having a firearm in the home increases the likelihood of an intimate partner homicide,” he says.

Shannon says that people who kill a partner “don’t just snap.” There is typically a progression of abuse. The presence of a gun makes homicide easier. “In murder-suicides, it’s almost exclusively firearms that are used.”

He says his mother was in an abusive marriage for 10 years. “It wasn’t until about year nine that she finally realized it was abuse. The behaviors are there. People may have not noticed them — they may not have wanted to notice them.”

The Minnesota Department of Health is not able to analyze firearms data. According to a Minnesota statute, “the commissioner of health is prohibited from collecting data on individuals regarding lawful firearm ownership.”

VFMN would like to see those restrictions lifted. Shannon says, “Something we’ve stressed for years is, if we can’t get reliable data from our state sources, then we don’t even have a starting point.”

What do we actually know about gun violence?

Esperanza United: We Need the Entire Village

One of the 11 speakers we hosted at “Celebrating Badass Minnesota Women” in 2022 was Patti Tototzintle, president and CEO of Esperanza United (pictured on cover), who shared these comments.

One in three women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. That’s a national statistic. In Minnesota, the same average exists. We know that systems and organizations are not the answer. They’re part of the solution. But domestic violence will end when communities end domestic violence.

We need policymakers who will improve and expand protections for all survivors. We need donors who will support initiatives that address issues of violence against women and others. We need friends who are willing to have difficult conversations when someone is dealing with violence in their life — a friend that shows up, not a friend who judges. We need men who will challenge harmful narratives and break the Man Code. We need service providers to challenge their institutions to better serve culturally specific communities. We need members of the media who will really tell our stories and share our truths with unflinching candor.

Badass women were celebrated at an April 2022 Changemakers Alliance/Minnesota Women’s Press event: (top l-r) Angela Dawson, Ranae Hanson, Chris Stark, Patti Tototzintle, Robin Wonsley, Beth Peterson (bottom l-r) Nelima Sitati Munene, Ellie Krug, Shannon Gibney, Alla Hassan, Lucina Kayee