Older Women and Family Violence

On March 1, 2023, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) announced the launch of the Minnesota Violent Death Reporting System (MNVDRS) Dashboard, a public health tool for visualizing statewide data on violent deaths. The launch coincides with the start of Women’s History Month. Presidential proclamations of the month emphasize the achievements of women, shining a spotlight on laudable historic and recent events. The need for a spotlight implicates darkness—

  • “[T]he many contributions of American women have at times been overlooked in the annals of American history.” President Ronald Reagan
  • “[W]omen still struggle every day.” President Bill Clinton
  • “I have also called on every agency in the Federal Government to be part of the solution to ending violence against women.” President Barack Obama
  • “Though poverty holds back many women, America cannot and will not allow this to persist.” President Donald Trump
  • “As we celebrate the contributions and progress of women and girls, we must also reflect on the extraordinary and unequal burdens they continue to bear today.” President Joe Biden

The MNVDRS dashboard reports family members, specifically spouses and adult children, as the suspected perpetrators in all homicide deaths of women over 60 years old from 2015 to 2020 for which the suspected perpetrator may be publicly reported. The Minnesota Elder Justice Center commits itself to preventing and alleviating abuse of older adults, recognizing the potential consequences of ongoing abuse as fatal.

Minnesota reports data on violent deaths to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of longstanding recognition of violence as a public health issue. The data derives from death certificates and death investigation reports from medical examiners, coroners, and law enforcement. The CDC makes the data available in modified form free of charge at the Web-based Injury Statistics and Query System (WISQARS). Minnesota stands among 25 states that have consistently gathered and reported data to the CDC in compliance with funding requirements over the six-year span reported in Minnesota’s MNVDRS. The CDC’s WISQARS includes data for all states but Hawaii for 2020. A policy designed to avoid inadvertent disclosure of a decedent’s identity suppresses any figure less than 10. As a result, a query into the relationship between the victim and perpetrator for one calendar year yield no relationship-identifying data, but the same query for 2015-2020 yields numbers over ten.

Together, MNVDRS and WISQARS reveal that 12 older women died at the hands of an adult child and 16 older women died at the hands of their spouse or other intimate partners. Where the total number of older women identified as victims of homicide totaled 41 over the same period, we may conclude that approximately 30% of the suspected perpetrators were adult children and approximately 40% of the suspected perpetrators were spouses or intimate partners. By contrast, over 50% of the suspected perpetrators in homicide deaths of men over 60 years old from 2015 to 2020 were strangers or acquaintances. Family violence has a disproportionate impact upon older women.

The Minnesota Elder Justice Center (MEJC) recognizes freedom from abuse, neglect and financial exploitation as a fundamental right. Pursuant to its mission and guiding principles, MEJC offers confidential information, advice, and professional consultation free of charge to anyone experiencing or suspecting abuse of a vulnerable adult or an older adult. MEJC also offers professional training to help individuals identify and effectively act upon signs of elder abuse.

Laura Orr, Staff Attorney

Minnesota Elder Justice Center