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Minnesota should do more to protect victims of domestic violence

"Do you feel safe at home?" This is a question that we all ought to be routinely asked at medical appointments, and for good reason. This is a method of identifying if people are in abusive relationships or living situations that can be extremely difficult to leave.

Domestic violence acts as a silent killer in Minnesota, and we need to take action to protect victims before it's too late.

Statewide, domestic violence is an issue that affects many, sometimes without us realizing it. While more than 65,000 adults receive services for domestic violence each year in Minnesota, less than half of victims ever reach out for services.

Domestic violence can result in psychological and physical harm to victims. Research shows that the psychological effects of domestic violence against women can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. Additionally, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence recognizes low self-esteem and difficulties trusting others as common effects of psychological abuse.

Women are disproportionately victims

According to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, at least 79 percent of the victims of domestic violence homicides in 2017 were women in Minnesota.

From 2015 to 2017, gunshot was also the leading cause of death for adult female victims of domestic violence homicide.

Currently, an Order for Protection can be given by a judge in the case of domestic abuse in Minnesota if the judge has concluded that the person requesting the order faces immediate danger of domestic violence.

Since Minnesota's 2014 Domestic Violence Firearm Act, abusers are required to transfer or surrender firearms temporarily if convicted of certain domestic assault offenses, subject to Domestic Child Abuse No Contact orders or certain OFPs.

However, as Minnesota's Kare 11 news team reported in March, in 2016 there were 2,937 domestic violence OFP cases filed that required a transfer of firearms if present but only 119 were confirmed (4 percent of cases) statewide.

There was no way to know exactly how many abusers possessed firearms. However, Roseau County confirmed a transfer of firearms for 73 percent of Domestic Violence OFP cases because the county judge made confirming firearm transfers a top priority.

Legislation would help prevent gun violence

The Gun Violence Protective Orders Authorization Bill SF 1262/HF 1605 was introduced in the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions, but was not passed. This would provide a more direct way to prevent gun violence by allowing someone to petition that another poses a significant and immediate danger to self or others by possessing a firearm.

This would be a step in the right direction for victims of domestic violence in Minnesota. In order to protect these victims from gun violence, I urge the Minnesota Legislature to pass this bill.

Compared to the state's current requirements under the Domestic Violence Firearm Act, this type of OFP could be more effective. With these OFPs, there would be a greater likelihood of gun transfer affidavits, because they are specific to gun violence, and it would be clear that petitioners know that someone is in possession of a firearm and poses a danger to self or others.

In addition, under this OFP, guns would need to be transferred within 24 hours rather than three days as with the current OFP for domestic abuse. This would allow victims in immediate danger of gun violence to petition for an OFP that would be more likely to protect them and others.

It's time for Minnesota to do more to protect against the gendered issue of domestic violence homicides.

Madeline Schwartz is a master of public health student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. This opinion piece first ran on the MinnPost online news site.