The Hidden Costs of Sexual Abuse
It was only a few months ago that most of us were glued to our televisions watching the Tokyo Summer Olympics. As always, one of the highlights of the Games was women’s gymnastics, and viewers across the world were eagerly looking forward to seeing Simone Biles, affectionately referred to as the GOAT—the Greatest of All Time.
As the world soon discovered, Biles was not going to be the star of the Games—at least, not in the way most of us expected. As it happened, Biles’ accomplishment at the Olympics was an even more meaningful one: shining a spotlight not on an array of gold medals, but on mental health issues among athletes.
As we learned only very recently, Biles nearly didn’t make it to the Olympics at all. The sexual abuse Biles and other gymnasts endured, and its aftermath, made it a struggle for Biles to continue to pursue the dream for which she had worked since the age of six.
Simone Biles is exceptional in many ways. But in one respect, she is like far too many others: the sexual abuse she survived has had unexpected costs of extended duration.
The Economic Costs of Sexual Abuse
When we talk about “the costs of sexual abuse,” we tend to think first of the significant emotional cost to victims or survivors and their loved ones. (The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, or RAINN, generally refers to people who have recently been affected by abuse as “victims,” and uses the term “survivors” when discussing those who have gone through the recovery process, or the long- and short-term effects of sexual abuse.)
But in addition to the very real and serious emotional and physical effects of sexual violence, there is an economic cost as well. A 2017 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine estimated the per-victim lifetime cost of rape in the U.S. as $122,461 per victim. That translates to a staggering nearly $3.1 trillion population cost. Bear in mind that that cost applies only to rape victims, and not to those who have experienced other forms of sexual violence.
What makes up that total figure? The researchers attributed about $1.6 trillion to lost work productivity (among both victims and perpetrators). That amount made up the largest portion of the total. Another significant cost included $1.2 trillion in medical costs. In addition, the lifetime cost of rape includes $234 billion in criminal justice activities and $36 billion in other costs, which include loss of or damage to victims’ property.
Who is bearing that cost? Mostly, the victims themselves although government sources pay about a third of the total, or about $ 1 trillion.
While these large figures convey the enormity of the economic cost of sexual violence, they obscure some of the individual impact. What does “lost productivity” look like to an individual? It could be someone who gives up a promising career in a downtown office because they’re no longer willing to be alone in a parking garage. It could be someone who refuses medical treatment they need to function because of sexual abuse by a medical professional.
Why Do the Hidden Costs of Sexual Abuse Matter?
The short answer is that the hidden costs of sexual abuse matter because victims and survivors matter, and they deserve to have all their injuries acknowledged and compensated. When a victim of sexual abuse is disbelieved, or nothing is done to stop an abuser (as happened for so long in the USA gymnasts’ case), it’s a form of revictimization. Holding an abuser accountable for their actions is important to the healing process for survivors of sexual abuse. And one way to hold abusers accountable, (including professionals whose abuse constitutes medical malpractice) is to force them to pay financially for the damages they have caused.
Financial compensation does not make up for sexual abuse or make it go away. But it does serve to hold abusers responsible in a tangible way. Importantly, forcing abusers to pay damages to their victims provides those victims with the resources they need to care for themselves as they navigate the process of recovery. In so doing, it shifts at least some of the financial burden of sexual abuse where it belongs: on the abuser who perpetrated it.
When restitution to an abuse victim is ordered in connection with a criminal case against the abuser, the amount owed is generally non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, meaning that the abuser cannot easily shed the impact of their actions. That’s only fitting, considering how long the impact of the abuse stays with the victims.
If you have questions about the long-term impacts and costs of sexual abuse, especially by a doctor, hospital staff, or therapist, please contact Huegli Fraser to schedule a consultation.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.