The first person to die of domestic violence in 2013 was a woman, 32, who was shot. The last to die was a man, 48, who was stabbed. The youngest victim was 16. The oldest was 69. At least 37 people in Minnesota were killed last year by someone they loved, or who loved them.
They were shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, run over with a car and murdered with a crossbow.
In other words, it was a fairly typical year.
Liz Richards, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, is one of the people who have been doing the grim accounting this past week, combing through the “horrible” stories of domestic violence. It is a tally that has been done for 25 years, a necessary list because it reminds us all of how close domestic abuse is to nearly everyone.
“I was just talking to the family and friend of one victim,” said Richards. “They talked about how they had not paid much attention to the whole range of issues touched off by domestic abuse until it hit their family. I really hope people get motivated before it touches theirs.”
Organizations dedicated to domestic abuse issues will hold a news conference at the State Capitol on Tuesday at 9 a.m. to discuss the issue and talk about two bills that legislators will introduce this year. Later, they will hold a memorial at the Kelly Inn nearby.
Some of the names they will talk about will be familiar. Mandy Matula and Anarae Schunk, for example. Two young women who received lots of media attention, partly because they were initially missing and their families organized search parties for them.
But the public won’t recognize the vast majority of victims, whose cases didn’t merit much attention.
“It seems stories get more attention if they happen in the metro area,” said Richards. “We also had four women missing for a time, and that’s unusual. There seems to be somewhat of a bias in attention toward younger, middle-class victims. I think it’s because people see the images and think, ‘that could be my daughter.’ ”
Richards said the public generally has stereotypes of what kind of people, and at what ages, are involved in domestics. Because homicides in general tend to happen more in the metro area among young men, people assume that’s also true of domestic homicide.
“But this year wasn’t typical,” said Richards. “Usually about half of domestic homicides are outside the metro area.”
They are cases like the one of Geraldine Kading, 69, of Detroit Lakes. She was shot with a crossbow and “found with an arrow sticking out of her chest.”
Or like Yesenia Gonzalez of Mankato, 20, allegedly stabbed by an ex-boyfriend.
“With domestic homicide, all the stereotypes go out the window,” Richards said. That makes the issue harder to deal with.
“It’s easier if you can isolate the issue [by demographics or economics], but this is a very complex, ingrained problem.”
She hopes that two bills will help. One of the bipartisan bills legislators will announce would change victim notification when an abuser is released from jail. Authorities currently only have to tell victims when the abuser gets out, but the bill would force them to also tell victims where they will be released.
The second bill alters what’s called the “gone on arrival” arrest scenario. Currently, officers responding to an assault must decide whether there is evidence of a felony or a misdemeanor. If they can’t determine if the assault merits a felony, they only have 24 hours to arrest the abuser, so they “often err on the side of caution,” said Richards. “But one of the most dangerous times for a woman is within the first day of an intervention.”
Richards knows legislation alone won’t make the annual tally of homicides go down. She points to campaigns like the one started by Fargo police a couple of years ago called “Domestic Violence: It’s Everyone’s Business” as positive ways to increase a sense of mutual responsibility in communities.
Whether it’s talking to a son or daughter, or reporting a neighbor’s loud argument, everyone needs to be involved.
“Whoever you are, there is a role for you in this,” Richards said.
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