Dakota County gets $450,000 to protect women from domestic violence

The money will be used by the Electronic Crime Task Force.

In a society so saturated by smartphones and social media, keeping your personal information private can be a challenge. For a woman trying to escape an abusive partner, it can be a life or death situation. 

Computers, mobile devices, and online accounts store a lot of private information about what we view online. Violent exes can use Facebook, Instagram, or other platforms to stalk their victims and monitor their activity. A woman who has a protection order against her ex might still be harassed via text message or tracked through her phone's GPS software.

But technology can also be helpful in domestic violence cases. More and more, data mined from cell phones and computers is used to get convictions.

The Hastings Star Gazette tells the story of Margorie Holland, who was killed by her husband Roger in 2013. One day before Margorie died, Roger did a web search on his phone that read: “If you pass out and fall down the stairs, can you break your neck?”

That evidence, along with text messages between the couple, was used to prosecute Holland, who was eventually found guilty and sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison, the paper says. 

And that's the kind of work Minnesota law enforcement will be able to focus more on, thanks to a federal grant.

Dakota County has been awarded $450,000 from the United States Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women, the sheriff's office announced in a news release Tuesday.

The grant will give the Dakota County Electronic Crime Task Force $150,000 per year for three years. It will be used "solely for the protection of women from crimes of violence and to investigate and prosecute offenders," the release says.

That means the money will be spent on gathering evidence of domestic and sexual violence, as well as stalking-related electronic crimes. 

It will be used to pay one full-time examiner who is "schooled in computer forensic science," the sheriff's office says, as well as a part-time coordinator who advocates for victims during the judicial process.

Since 2015, the Electronic Crime Task Force has been working with victims to successfully and safely recover evidence and prosecute offenders under a previous grant, which has since expired.

"The task force is happy that, with the new grant funding received, an investigator can continue to be assigned to investigate these offenses as his/her primary duty," the release says.

Domestic violence in Minnesota

At least 21 Minnesotans were killed in 2016 by a current or former domestic partner, according to the annual Femicide Report by the Minnesota Coalition of Battered Women.

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. 

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.

According to Duluth's Safe Haven Shelter and Resource Center:

  • 1 in 3 women in Minnesota will be subjected to physical violence, sexual violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • Every 15 seconds, a woman is battered in the United States.

If you know anyone that is affected by domestic violence, you can find more information on services available here, via the Minnesota DPS.

You can also call the Day One Crisis Hotline at 1-866-223-1111.

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