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2014: The year family violence became a nationwide conversation


This is the fourth in a series of five posts discussing 2014’s most impactful stories in Minnesota. It’s a look at where we were, what we went through, and where we find ourselves now – with a glimpse at what to expect in 2015. Check back for the final one on Wednesday.

It was the photos of the 4-year-old's leg – showing dark purple marks running up his thigh one by one, some bruised, others scabbed over – that seemed to shock people the most.

The wounds were being blamed on the boy's father Adrian Peterson, the Vikings' star running back with the wide eyes and wider smile, whose image was one Mr. Clean would have been proud of. He was indicted by a Texas grand jury, struck a plea deal and was suspended by the NFL.

The indictment against Peterson was not the only instance of family violence in 2014. But the accusations were so unexpected, and Peterson's stature in Minnesota so towering, that his case – as much as any other in the state – thrust the conversation about family violence into the mainstream.

Child abuse

Minnesota's Child Protection Services system came under constant fire this year for repeated failures to act.

A Star Tribune special report from September told the heartbreaking tale of Eric Dean, who died in February 2013 at age 4 while in the care of his stepmother, despite 15 reports of maltreatment. Dean's case was one of dozens of similar deaths the paper detailed.

Gov. Mark Dayton called the lack of action a "colossal failure," and the report prompted officials to create a task force aimed at fixing the protection service's problems.

Peterson's indictment also reopened the debate about corporal punishment – and how it may be less accepted in Minnesota than in the South.

Domestic violence

Another NFL star – Ray Rice – found himself at the center of a firestorm after the video of him apparently punching his now-wife was released, igniting a nationwide conversation about domestic violence.

In October, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women said 16 people had been killed in the state due to domestic violence this year. While women are most frequently targeted, the coalition says men can be victims, too.

In August of this year, the group remembered Kelly Phillips as a victim of domestic violence. (His former partner will head to trial in February.)

But unlike child protection services, Minnesota received praise for domestic violence initiatives, including programs in Duluth and Stearns County.

In addition, state lawmakers passed a bill tightening gun ownership restrictions for those convicted of certain domestic violence crimes, which went into effect Aug. 1.

Real-world response

It's fair to say that more people have been talking about family violence on a regular basis now than they were at the beginning of the year. And we saw some evidence of that, at least in the short term.

After the Rice video came out, the Huffington Post reported a significant spike in calls to domestic violence hotlines. New Jersey began looking into the creation of domestic violence courts.

Google showed a significant jump in searches for "domestic violence" – which also happened with the term "child abuse" after Peterson was indicted.

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The big question: Will the attention given to the issue this year – the headlines, the videos, the conversations – result in real action regarding family violence, with 2014 historically viewed as the turning point?

The answer remains to be seen.

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