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The number of Minnesotans who died in episodes of intimate partner violence rose more than 40% in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified domestic violence nationwide.

At least 30 Minnesotans, including 20 women, one man, three children and six bystanders or people attempting to intervene, were killed in domestic violence-related incidents last year, according to the 2020 Homicide Report from Violence Free Minnesota.

That's the highest toll since 2015, when the statewide coalition of organizations seeking to end relationship abuse recorded 33 such deaths.

The oldest victim listed in the report was 72-year-old Klara Eugenie Wright of Dakota, southeast of Winona. The youngest was 20-month-old Kevin Lee Shabaiash Jr., whose mother, 27-year-old Jackie Ann DeFoe, was also killed in their Cloquet home on the Fond du Lac Reservation near Duluth.

The rise in Minnesota is part of a global trend of intimate partner violence during the pandemic, as well as an overall rise in violent crime. The state saw a 58% jump in murders from 2019 to 2020 — mostly in Minneapolis, where gun violence continues to plague the city this year.

So far in 2021, Violence Free Minnesota has tracked 21 intimate partner homicides.

"Since the beginning of the pandemic, we understand that victim-survivors are navigating increasing barriers to safety due to shutdowns, due to economic shortfalls and fallouts, due to increased isolation," Becky Smith, Violence Free Minnesota's interim executive director, said at a virtual news conference Friday. "We've also heard that as victims reach out for services, they're reporting more severe violence, and we take that to indicate that people are waiting longer to seek services and to seek help."

The report, which Violence Free Minnesota — formerly the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women — has released annually since 1989, paints a brutal picture. Of the 20 women killed by intimate partners last year, nine were shot; four were beaten; three were strangled; three were stabbed, and one was run over with a car. Six were separated from their partner or attempting to leave. Six were victims of a homicide-suicide. Nine were mothers of minor children. Four, including DeFoe, were pregnant.

There were also significant racial disparities. While about 7% of Minnesotans are Black, African Americans made up 40% of domestic violence homicide victims in 2020, according to the report. Native Americans made up 10% of those homicides, 10 times their share of the state's population.

"Violence follows the fault lines of systemic oppression — of racism and sexism, of homophobia and transphobia — and we see this reflected in the data," said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who described herself as "a Native woman, as a survivor and as a child witness" at Friday's news conference. "I can tell you that every Native woman I know has experienced violence. Every single one."

Advocates noted the rise in attention and resources toward reducing intimate partner violence in Minnesota in recent years. State task forces were convened to focus on missing and murdered Indigenous and African-American women. The Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz allocated grant money this spring to support survivors of domestic violence through prevention and services, such as help with housing or health care costs.

Still, advocates said, systemic change is needed. Besides documenting the lives lost in 2020, the report makes recommendations, including alternative public safety responses to domestic violence, therapeutic services for child witnesses, stronger tenant protection laws and economic empowerment programs for survivors to maintain stability.

"We are dedicated to creating a world in which we do not have to issue an annual report documenting Minnesota's intimate partner homicides," said Katie Kramer, policy director for Violence Free Minnesota.

Since 1989, the organization has documented more than 700 homicides. Every year, the number has not fallen below double digits — the only consistent pattern across the three decades of data, said Meggie Royer, the organization's youth and prevention program manager.

"If and when the number of victims killed due to relationship abuse remains in the single digits," Royer said, "we will say, 'One is still too many.' "

Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509