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Report: Domestic violence killings rose in Minnesota last year

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Deaths resulting from domestic violence rose to at least 34 in Minnesota last year, including four children.

The figures released on Tuesday in the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women's (MCBW) "Femicide Report" show 22 women and three men died last year at the hands of a partner or an ex.

The nine others killed include four children killed by their mothers' boyfriend or husband, three men killed by an ex of the woman they were dating, and two who were "interveners" or bystanders in a domestic dispute.

It marks a rise on the 23 Minnesotans who died from domestic violence in 2014.

Included in last year's figures was the incident involving Brian Short, who killed his wife and three children at their home on the shores of Lake Minnetonka.

Aitkin County Sheriff's Deputy Steven Sandburg, killed at St. Cloud Hospital following a struggle with domestic violence suspect Danny Hammond, is also included, as are the highly-publicized missing women cases of Rose Downwind and Adelle Jensen, whose exes are believed to be involved in their deaths.

However, the actual numbers of domestic violence homicide in Minnesota could be much higher.

As state and federal agencies don't compile data on domestic violence homicide, the MCBW's are compiled from public court data, medical examiners' reports, media reports and social media.

As a result, it says, the number of domestic violence killings particularly among marginalized sections of society could be missing from the final data, as these deaths "frequently go unreported in mainstream media."

The report makes several suggestions for improving the way Minnesota handles domestic violence, including more intervention for batterers to change their behavior before they kill, better warning systems for at-risk women, better economic assistance for domestic violence victims to combat "economic abuse," and a greater focus on reducing domestic violence in minority communities.

Racial divide, economic factors in deaths

The report highlights a proportionally high number of American Indian and African American women killed by their partners, with five out of the 22 female homicide victims American Indian and seven African American.

In all cases involving American Indian women, the killers had "significant criminal histories," the report notes.

The MCBW also found a correlation between domestic violence and household finances. It says "economic abuse" is one tactic batterers use to "maintain power and control over victims," as they fear destitution if they leave their abusive partners.

These abusers act by limiting their access to employment, housing, food, transportation and childcare. They may prohibit them from working, force them to work, deny them child support, force them to engage in prostitution, or force them to commit criminal acts to support themselves.

Common factors in the homicides

The MCBW highlights four common factors it considers "red flags" in domestic violence homicides.

In eight of the 22 instances in which women were killed by a partner or ex, the woman died in the process of leaving, having made attempts to leave or having successfully left the killer in the year prior to her death.

Another factor is where the abuser has made "threats to kill" prior to a homicide, the MCBW says in at least three incidents in 2015, women who were killed had been threatened with death by their partner.

Access to firearms also plays a role in the killings, according to the report.

Half of the 22 women killed last year died from gunshot wounds, and in four of these cases, the killers were banned from possessing guns following previous convictions.

"These statistics support the studies showing that possession of firearms by an abuser can increase the risk of lethality," the report says. "In light of current debates regarding guns and gun safety legislation, it is helpful to consider these statistics. Domestic violence firearm prohibitions are only as effective as their implementation."

The final factor is perpetrators having a history of violence. In 13 of the 22 female homicides in 2015, the offender had a "documented prior history of abuse in criminal or civil court."

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