The cost of sexual violence: who foots the bill? Guest blog by Caroline Kent


The cost of sexual violence: who foots the bill? 

Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 rapes (of adults alone) every hour. And demand for specialist sexual violence services is on the rise.

In 2014-15 over 50,000 people received an on-going Rape Crisis service: a gigantic increase of 50% over the last two years. Even use of Rape Crisis email support has increased by 45% over the last 12 months. Calls to its helpline have soared to 164,000 – an average of 3,000 a week. And we’re not just talking adults, here. Where age was known, those aged under 24 represented 25% of service users in 2014-15, and 1,500 were aged 15 or under.

In the face more people than ever flooding forward for help in dealing with the sexual violence they face, funding has been drastically cut. And though it may fatten the government’s budget in the immediate future, cuts fly in the face of economic sense.

The “cost” of rape is often something thought to be predominantly emotional, unquantifiable, paid for in a personal and private setting. But the tangible economic effects of failing victims are borne by all of us; men, women, rich, poor, victim, and perpetrator.

Studies on the costs of sexual violence indicate that early intervention costs vastly less than later-stage crisis care and other societal consequences.  It’s been repeatedly proven that it is simply not prudent to cut funding as a result of short-run budgetary concerns, because the longer term financial burden to society will be vastly increased.

In budgets, the rational allocation of scarce resources is usually informed by measuring costs versus consequences but oddly this doesn’t seem to be the case where sexual violence is concerned.

The cost of sexual offences to England and Wales in a year is estimated to be £8.46 billion pounds, with each rape costing an estimated £76,000 pounds ([Sexual Violence and Abuse Action Plan, Home Office, 2007]).

Many funded services have said that if the funding crisis forces them to close their doors, many of their survivors will have to rely on public health and social services to receive treatment at huge cost to local government. These costs increase exponentially if proper treatment and support for victims is not provided at the outset.

We are already seeing a huge number of cases showing that by the time survivors have languished on a waiting list for a year, they’re in a much worse psychological state than when they first came forward. If women do not receive support, they may using negative coping strategies for post trauma symptoms including destructive relationships and addictions to drugs and alcohol (it’s worth noting that conventional wisdom is that the effects of sexual violence on the psychology of victims are extremely similar to those seen in frontline veterans suffering from severe PTSD).

The government’s refusal to supply sustained funding flies in the face of conventional economic wisdom. Not only does it place an impossible burden on public services, the underfunding of sexual violence services has a significant negative influence on GNP and national economic well-being. If unsupported, sexual violence against women lowers their earning potential (reduced income stems from time off work, lower productivity while at work, quitting or lost promotions, and generally having a more marginal labour force attachment) which results in lost tax revenue from reduced output and income and consequently lower GNP.

We see lower earning potential for individual victims and stifled profits for companies resulting from reduced productivity (UK government research shows that the price of sexual violence to the UK economy in lost output is at least £3bn a year. It is estimated that around half of the costs of such sickness absences is borne by the employer and half by the individual in lost wages).

The effects of leaving sexual violence victims without support has broader social costs too, of course; the fear all women may face as a result of knowing that other women suffer from sexual violence, the undermining of societal values, the guilt non-violent men feel for the actions of the perpetrators, the emotional distress that individual women harbour as a result of trauma, to name a few.

These issues aren’t just going to ‘go away’, be quietly internalised and buried deep within the individual survivor herself. Where funding for victims of sexual violence is minimal, the costs to society spiral. And the whole of society bears the brunt.

Appropriate and early intervention absolutely mitigates costs and consequences.

A 2006 US study found that when victims receive advocate-assisted services following assaults, they receive more helpful information, referrals, and services and experience less secondary trauma or re-victimization by medical and legal systems. The same study found that when advocates are present in the legal and medical proceedings following rape, victims fare better in both the short- and long-term, experiencing less psychological distress, physical health struggles, sexual risk-taking behaviours, self-blame, guilt, and depression. Rape survivors with advocates were 59% more likely to have police reports taken than survivors without advocates, whose reports were only taken 41% of the time.

In Canada, funding sexual assault services is paramount to The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and has helped to reduce the societal cost associated with the criminal victimization of women. Based on researchers’ cost-benefit analysis, the net benefit of VAWA to the whole of society is estimated at $16.4 billion (Clark, Biddle, & Martin, 2002). Approximately $14.8 billion in victimization costs are averted due to it.

Why is the UK not drawing on this to work towards a solution?

Drawing the economic costs together with the emotional impact on individuals and society as a whole makes for a fairly straight forward argument. It’s obvious that if you front load the support soon after sexual violence occurs then there is less support required further down the line and the repercussions are fewer.

The UK government’s attitude has long been one of short term corner-cutting and it’s about time we called an end to the cycle of skewed prioritising and fixation on sweeping under the carpet the issues that affect predominantly women. If we don’t, every member of society will continue to pay the price.

By Caroline Kent 

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