It’s been 16 years since Susan Snively’s ground-breaking report [doc] on the economic cost of domestic violence in New Zealand. In 1996 the prevalence rate of domestic violence was estimated at 1 in 7 people – 301,691, including 129,556 children – with an economic cost of $1.2 billion annually. In addition 40% of all homicides were the result of domestic disputes.
A recent review of studies has identified some of the economic cost of domestic violence. The studies highlighted that domestic violence significantly impedes economic growth and development:
- A 2003 study in the U.S. estimated that domestic violence cost their economy more than $5.8 billion a year
- A study in the United Kingdom concluded that domestic violence costs individuals, the state, and businesses £23 billion per year in terms of the consequences of pain and suffering, the costs of services used by the victims and reduced economic output (estimated at £2.7 billion per year)
- Studies in Australia and Canada have estimated the annual costs of domestic violence (and sexual assault, in the case of the Canadian study) at A$8.1 billion and CAN$4.2 billion, respectively
- Abused women in the United States missed nearly 8 million days of paid work in a single year – the equivalent of losing more than 32,000 full-time jobs from the U.S. economy.
- Domestic violence also reduces victims’ productivity when at work as a result of lowered self-esteem, depression, elevated stress levels, poorer concentration, and other mental and physical health issues stemming from the violence.
- Victims of domestic violence have higher rates of job turnover than non-abused women. Years of continued violence from a controlling and abusive partner can prevent a woman from seeking paid employment outside the home.
- Domestic violence costs the Australian business sector alone A$1.5 billion annually in lost profits, higher employee turnover, employee absenteeism, and increased tax burden to fund the costs of domestic violence borne by the public sector.
- WHO reported that abused women are twice as likely to suffer from poor health and physical and mental health problems as non-abused women, that victims of domestic violence, as well as being at greater risk of homicide are also at greater risk of suicide… and that this represents 9 million disability-adjusted life years lost worldwide each year due to rape and domestic violence – more than are lost to all forms of cancer and twice the number lost to automobile accidents.
Mum finds courage to ‘nark’ on thug A story on the Stuff website describes how a woman gave evidence against her partner because, after he kicked her in the face and left her in a gutter outside the house, while the couple’s two eldest children looked on, she needed to ‘do something’ – for the Kids. I applaud that woman because research shows [pdf] up to 35% of children who witness or experience violence suffer from diminished aspirations – their world view narrows as does their hopes for their future – depression, self harm and suicidal thoughts, dissociation, withdrawal, truancy, inability to be happy, helplessness and hopelessness, sleep disorders, skin disorders and other stress related illnesses. This can be worse for children who witness domestic violence than for children who are beaten themselves. Adolescents who witness domestic violence are more likely to drop out of school, exhibit deviant and anti-social behaviour, abuse alcohol and drugs, and imitate the relationships they were exposed to.
How does that happen? – All families have disagreements, right? But although a kid who witnesses domestic violence can see other families argue, they don’t usually see other mums beaten and bleeding. These kids know that no-one else has a mum with a black eye, broken nose, broken ribs. Other families don’t barricade themselves in a bedroom and have holes punched into the doors and the walls while screaming ‘stop it’ to their parents, or climb out the windows to run to the neighbours. Other kids aren’t awake most of the night fearfully waiting out the shouting, screaming, thumping and maybe even being called out to support one side of the argument or the other. Other kids didn’t recognise, and say ‘hi’ to a police officer in the street they saw taking their daddy away the night before.
It is well understood (I hope) that beaten women are less able to perform household chores, necessary childcare, and other domestic labour that is often critical to a family’s well-being. And the requirement for medical care and emotional support means other family members are often called upon to assist (whether they are informed of the reason for incapacitation is another matter altogether). It’s also well understood that kids who are awake half the night won’t be ‘learning ready’ when they arrive at school the next morning (if they make it that far). Think about what that means for that long tail of underachievement.
New Zealand ranks amongst the worst in the OECD for domestic violence. If the government was really, really keen on balancing the books, reducing DPB costs and improving child health and education they’d do whatever they could to reduce the direct and indirect costs of domestic violence – preventing those hospital trips, police visits and children turning up to school too tired to learn should save some dollars, shouldn’t it?
Yet at a time when economic performance and reduction in state costs are crucial, instead of trying to improve performance and reduce costs by tackling the $1.2 billion (in 1996 dollars) spent on cleaning up the mess from domestic violence, funding for Women’s Refuge has been reduced, legal aid is less accessible and there is a sinking lid on police numbers. Instead of making it easier for women to leave violent relationships and heal themselves and their children there is instead a requirement for women on the DPB to search for employment. And charter schools and national standards are deemed the best way to ‘fix’ the educational tail.
[sorry for taking so long to getting to post this - slackness on my part with the guest posts, Eddie]