Recently, a request came in from someone who wanted to include information on the cost of sexual violence in an upcoming training. Having this information can be helpful in your advocacy work and conversations with employers, legislators and funders. Although a difficult social issue to quantify, several studies have examined the costs of sexual violence based on factors like the overall social cost of responding, loss in income or productivity, or in examining the change in quality of life for people living through and healing from sexual violence.
The best available research tells us that crime victimization costs the United States $450 billion annually (National Institute of Justice, 1996). Rape is the most costly of all crimes to its victims, with total estimated costs at $127 billion a year (excluding the cost of child sexual abuse). (NAESV, 2011)
In 2010, one study (DeLisi et al., 2010) reported that victim costs associated with rape were estimated to be $138,310, $8,503 in justice costs, $4,610 in offender productivity and the overall cost totaled $448,532 per offense. Aggregate numbers reported by the CDC in 2003 presented the costs of intimate partner rape, physical assault, and stalking in the U.S. as more than $5.8 billion each year, nearly $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health care services. How does this compare to the social costs of not experiencing sexual violence? Jones et al. (2006) found that the average healthcare costs for women who have reported physical, sexual and or emotional abuse exceed the costs of healthcare for women who reported never being abused by $1,700 over a three year period. Keep in mind that costs may vary depending on the system you’re operating within; Suris et al. (2004) reported that healthcare costs of women veterans with a history of military sexual trauma was about $14,781. For women with histories of non-military (civilian) sexual assault, average health care was about $17,089.
In addition to costs for the social systems that address sexual violence, there are significant personal costs to victims. Rates of impact across studies varies, but the impact is clear. In one early study (Ellis, Atkeson, & Calhoun, 1981) with a small sample size, researchers found that 50% of victims lost or were forced to quit their jobs in the year following the rape because of the severity of their reactions. The CDC (2003) reported that women who experienced rape lost an average of 8.1 days from paid work. In another report, women were more likely to report losing time from work (19%) than men who experienced sexual violence (9%), but regardless, the impact is notable (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2006). Additionally, the earlier that a person experiences violent crime, the more impact it will have on their educational and occupational attainment over the lifespan (MacMillan, 2000)—income losses associated with victimization in adolescence diminishes annual income by about $6,000 per year meaning the expected lifetime income loss associated with sexual assault is $241,600.
Perhaps the most notable impact for people doing advocacy work is the impact on quality of life for people surviving violence. According to Travis (1996), the cost per victimization from 1987-1990 showed that the quality of life losses were generally higher than all tangible losses. Miller et al. (1996) incorporated the cost of pain, suffering, and lost quality of life in their $127 billion estimate. Ultimately, these questions have been around for a long time, but we’re still seeking solid answers. To try and sum it all up, the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence released The Costs and Consequences of Sexual Violence and Cost Effective Solutions in 2011. Chances are good that as a movement, we’ll have to keep answering questions like this, and keep thinking about ways to quantify the impact of violence and the work that we do. We must continue gathering evidence to demonstrate what we already know: prevention programs are valuable – not simply because of their immediate benefits for communities, but as cost-effective investments toward a healthier future.
How would you measure the cost of your work?