Three Decades Covering Gender-Based Violence

For more than 35 years, Minnesota Women’s Press (MWP) has been reporting on why gender-based violence happens and how it is addressed in our state. Many of the stories we have published over the decades are not significantly different from today. The following summarizes a small portion of our decades of coverage about gender-based violence.

“The punishment for rape (a three- time offense) is the same as the punishment for car theft (a three-time offense). This is not a responsible, humane, or even sensible situation.”

— “How Do We Protect Ourselves?” (1988)

In the first years after its founding in 1985, Minnesota Women’s Press reported with cautious optimism on changes that assisted survivors of gender-based violence as they navigated the legal and medical systems. Laws around sexual assault were updated to ease the burden on the victim, investigations and legal proceedings were standardized in sexual assault cases, and sensitivity trainings became available to law enforcement, medical professionals, and counselors.

The Minneapolis Intervention Project began offering community-coordinated response to domestic violence calls, with teams of female volunteers dispatched to sites of domestic abuse arrests concurrently with police. During the first year, MWP reported that the percent of abusers sent into counseling jumped from 14 to 62 percent, and the percent that went into chemical dependency treatment increased from 14 to 45 percent.

Rape crisis programs, such as the Sexual Violence Center in Minneapolis, shown here, offer support right after the rape and follow- up counseling to survivors.

Although these services were an improvement, many sources quoted in MWP raised concerns that rape-crisis and other counseling services were geared for white, middle-class, suburban women and did not meet the needs of women of color. Moreover, while the number of women needing these free services dramatically increased in the 1980s, the amount of funding and staff remained the same or decreased.

In a 1992 article about the police killing of Theodore Bobo, a Black man, during a domestic violence call, Rebecca Sisco quoted Assumpta Kintu, program coordinator and legal advocate for battered women at the Intervention Project in Minneapolis. “[Women of color] struggle with two issues always,” Kintu said. “First, they want to have a violence-free home for themselves and their children. Second, they want to ensure that, in obtaining safety, they don’t hand their men over to a judicial system that is racist.”

MWP reporters examined the underlying cultural causes of gender-based violence, including violent pornography and the “she asked for it” mentality that prevented many survivors from coming forward. One anonymous writer wrote in 1988 about carrying a .32 revolver and a switchblade for personal protection after a wave of sexual attacks in mall parking lots.

In 1989, a woman shared a lengthy account of an assault and the compounded trauma she experienced dealing with the police and legal system. Her attacker received a plea bargain and no court case. She wasn’t allowed to give a victim’s impact statement.

“All I wanted was to appropriately tell him how angry I was. I needed that for my own healing.”

— “Aftermath of an Assault” (1989)

In “Breaking the Code of Silence,” Rebecca Sisco reported on public, anonymous notebooks women used to name abusers that were kept in student unions at colleges across the state. “The unwillingness of women to [come forward in a formal way] does not indicate failure on the part of the women, but rather a failure on the part of society to support them,” said Janet Thomas, assistant director of counseling at St. Catherine University, to MWP in 1991. “Until women feel safer to do so, they will continue to seek more anonymous ways to protect each other and validate their experiences.”

In June 2000, Jennifer Haney reported on a disturbing trend of landlords in the Twin Cities using the dwindling number of affordable rental units as power to seek sexual favors in exchange for tenancy. Landlords tended to “prey on low-income women with few other affordable housing options in a metro area whose vacancy rate is low.”

In 2008, U.S. Air Force veteran Chante Wolf was featured for her activism to raise awareness about the “regular sexual harrassment and near-rape” she and other female service members experienced while on duty, and the challenges those experiences caused her when she returned to civilian life. The article reported that “nearly one- third of a nationwide sample of female veterans seeking V.A. health care said they experienced rape or attempted rape during their service.”

MWP publisher Mikki Morrissette (who was a freelance writer at the time) reported in 2015 on the link between the oil industry in North Dakota and sex trafficking of indigenous women and girls. Patina Park, then-executive director of Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, was quoted: “We fill our car with gas and don’t think where that is coming from. There is no safe way to do what we’re doing. Exploitation is connected with every step.”