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The Cost of Sexual Assault

September 27, 2023

By Brylie Turk
4 min read

Sexual assault can have far-reaching consequences for survivors; in addition to the psychological and emotional toll, sexual assault can have a significant financial impact of survivors, resulting in a public health crisis and affecting society as a whole.

The financial burden of sexual assault on survivors can significantly hinder a survivor’s ability to recover from their trauma. Survivors may face medical expenses, legal fees, loss of income, and other expenses, causing significant financial stress.

According to a CDC study, the estimated lifetime cost of rape is $122,461 per victim, resulting in a population economic burden of $3.1 trillion, based on data that 25 million U.S. adults have been raped. This estimate collectively includes “$1.2 (39% of total) trillion in medical costs, 1.6 million (52% in lost work productivity among victims and perpetrators, $234 billion (8%) in criminal justice activities, and $36 billion in other costs, including victim property loss or damage” (Peterson et al. 2017). Government sources only pay an estimated $1 trillion (32%) of the lifetime economic burden, leaving survivors to shoulder a majority of the cost alone.

Medical expenses account for a significant portion of the financial costs of sexual assault on victims, “the consequences of rape involve both physical and mental trauma and require a range of interventions” (Walby et al. 2015). Survivors often require immediate medical attention after an assault, including emergency room visits, medical exams, and treatment for physical injuries. Rape victims may have to pay for emergency contraceptives and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Additionally, rape victims are at risk for pregnancy (5%) and sexually transmitted diseases (20%) (Walby et al. 2015), significantly increasing the cost of treatment. These costs can add up quickly, particularly if the survivor requires ongoing medical care or therapy to address the psychological effects of the assault. Mental health outcomes from sexual assault may include “anxiety, depression, eating disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide attempt” (Peterson et al. 2017), all of which require ongoing, and expensive, mental health services. These services may include therapy and medication, which are both highly costly. Survivors may also face substance use disorder, as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System indicated survivors have significantly higher observed prevalence of excess alcohol and tobacco use (Peterson et al. 2017), which may also lead to crime costs. Sexual violence can take a lifetime toll on a survivor’s mental health, baring substantial charges to the lifetime cost of rape.

Sexual assault has a significant impact on a survivor’s career. Survivors may need to take time off from work for “immediate recovery, medical or legal appointments during work hours, struggles with mental health symptoms, and fear of seeing the perpetrator at work” (Loya 2014), often resulting in lost wages. For some survivors, the trauma of the assault may also impact their ability to work or perform their job duties, resulting in reduced earning capacity. The majority of employers in one study “reported that survivors’ performance at work suffers, particularly immediately following the assault” (Loya 2014), as they may be depressed or disconnected at work. Another study revealed that two-thirds of survivors reported that their work performance suffered due to their assault (Loya 2014). Survivors may also struggle with privacy at work, as they must disclose their abuse in order to receive accommodation. If an employer is unaware of an employee’s assault their diminished job performance can cause them to lose out on opportunities as they are perceived as incompetent.

Another employment outcome for survivors is job loss, “including quitting because they are struggling to function, being dismissed as retribution for reporting, and most commonly, being fired for poor performance or for taking too many days off” (Loya 2014). Survivors may also choose to move due to location-based trauma, forcing them to quit their current job. It can then be difficult to find work and maintain financial stability, particularly when moving expenses are factored in. Survivors can also struggle with the long-term inability to work due to “debilitating depression or anxiety, general trauma, substance abuse, injury, and fear of seeing the perpetrator” (Loya 2014). Mental health impacts are the primary reason survivors are unable to return to work, as it may take years to overcome PTSD, anxiety, substance use disorder, and dissociation.

Criminal justice activities can have a steep financial cost for survivors. If survivors choose to pursue legal action against their perpetrators, they often must pay court fees, lawyer fees, and other expenses. While some survivors may be eligible for free legal services, others may not qualify and be required to pay out of pocket. These costs can be particularly burdensome for survivors with limited financial resources, and they may choose to forgo taking legal action against their perpetrators due to the steep cost. Furthermore, survivors may wish to bring civil cases against institutions who failed to protect them or respect their rights following an assault. This can tack on further legal expenses, and there is no guarantee survivors will be reimbursed or receive settlements.

         Survivors may also incur other expenses related to their assault, such as transportation to and from medical appointments, therapy sessions, police interactions, and court dates. They may additionally have to pay for childcare if they are unavailable or unable to care for their child following an assault. Often, survivors choose to increase security measures, potentially changing their locks or installing home security systems. They may also have to pay to obtain restraining orders or protective orders to ensure their safety. Additionally, survivors may also face property loss or damage, all of which they are financially burdened with.

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