At least 21 Minnesotans were killed in 2016 by a current or former domestic partner.
That's according to the annual Femicide Report released Tuesday by the Minnesota Coalition of Battered Women. The organization says they are still investigating two deaths, which could bring the total to 23.
Of those 21 deaths, 18 were women who are believed to have been killed by their current or ex husband, boyfriend, or male intimate partner. The deaths of these women left 14 or more minor children without mothers. The other three deaths were family members, interveners or friends – two of which were children.
Although the number of deaths due to domestic violence is down from the previous year, which saw 34 deaths, the coalition says that one year's data alone cannot predict a trend. And there are limitations to the report, because no federal agency collects comprehensive data on domestic homicide. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women relies on public court data, medical examiners’ reports, media reports and social media.
Which means that the actual numbers of domestic violence homicide in Minnesota could be higher, especially for marginalized sections of society that don't get as much coverage in the media. That includes women and children of color, who are living in poverty, who live in rural areas, who are lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or are victims of sex trafficking.
Common factors in homicides
The coalition highlights four common factors it considers “red flags” in domestic violence homicides.
The biggest red flag is threats by the abuser to kill the victim, which was the case in at least two of last year's victims. This is the most reliable indicator that a domestic partner will kill, and yet it's also most frequently overlooked by the criminal and civil justice systems, the coalition says.
While some people question why a woman wouldn't just leave an abusive partner, the report shows how difficult it is. In at least six of the 18 instances in which women were killed by a partner or ex, the woman died either while in the process of leaving, having made attempts to leave, or having successfully left the suspected killer in the year prior to her death.
Access to guns also plays a role in the killings, according to the report. In 2016, 56 percent of the homicides were committed with firearms. The coalition says firearms are typically the weapon of choice, used in about half of all documented domestic violence homicides.
The final factor is perpetrators with a history of violence. In 44 percent (eight out of 18) of the female homicides in 2016, the offender had a “documented prior history of abuse in criminal or civil court." The report shows perpetrators with as many as 15 charges on record.
The report makes several suggestions for improving the way Minnesota handles domestic violence.
Without comprehensive data, the MCBW says it's hard to identify "gaps in the system" that need to be addressed to prevent domestic violence fatalities.
They also want to see more resources for women with economic instability, training for all personnel within the criminal justice system to increase awareness, and increased media coverage on domestic violence cases in order to influence policy, law enforcement, and public opinion.
Several more recommendations are discussed in the report here.
Where to get help
Some of the women who were injured or killed didn't tell anyone what was happening. But many did reach out to the legal system, medical professionals, mental health providers, or family and friends.
"It is precisely in those cases where we can start to make a difference. We can learn from the tragic loss of life by taking action towards meaningful change," the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women says.
If you or someone you know needs help, here's where to find a program near you. You can also call a confidential domestic violence hotline like Minnesota DayOne at (866) 223-1111.
If you're looking to help others, you can start by getting involved in public policy surrounding domestic violence. Here are some resources for that.