The costs of sexual violence

There is no summer vacation from sexual violence. Girls and women are sexually harassed and assaulted at public swimming pools, the beach, the cottage, hotels, really, anywhere we go — just like the rest of the year. We are blamed for dressing provocatively, drinking too much, going into unsafe spaces – just like the rest of the year. We are not believed when we tell, so we learn not to tell – just like the rest of the year.

Here is a look at just what all that sexual violence is costing us (and one example of an attempt to make money from it).

It’s expensive

A recent report from Public Safety Canada called “The costs of crime and criminal justice responses” found that sexual assault and other sexual offences cost $4.8 billion a year, making it the most expensive crime in the country.

And that’s with only about 10% of sexual assault survivors reporting to the police. It’s mind-blowing to consider what the costs would be if the criminal response to sexual violence actually encouraged women to report.

The cost per incident of sexual violence comes to between $136,000 and $164,000, with that cost spread over four categories: out of pocket costs to the victim (property damage and loss, lost wages, medical costs, other expenses) of approximately $25,000/case;  intangible costs to the victim (pain and suffering) of $90,000/case; criminal system costs (law enforcement, courts, jails/prisons, programs and services) of $15,000/case and opportunity costs (because an individual chooses to engage in criminal activity of $11,000/case.

Of course, that $90,000 in intangible costs is not real money: many survivors manage most of their pain and suffering with little if any funded support.

By comparison . . .

Ontario’s sexual assault centres supported approximately 16,650 survivors of sexual violence last year, most of whom do not report their sexual assault to the police. That number goes up every year as public awareness about sexual violence increases, but funding for sexual assault centres does not increase in proportion to increased demand for services. In 2019, sexual assault centres received a one-time modest infusion of funding for one year, making it impossible to create new positions to deal with the ever-increasing wait lists for services.  

Ford’s government declined to implement the funding promised through the previous Liberal government’s gender-based violence strategy, which would have seen annualized increases flow to a number of violence against women services, including sexual assault centres. Instead, his government is conducting a review of all “victim services.” Violence against women services are concerned, given this government’s slash and burn approach to social services generally, that this review could result in an end to gender-specific services and forced streamlining/amalgamation of services that will leave survivors of gender-based violence without the specialized supports they need.

What goes on in hospitals?

Not all survivors of sexual violence turn to community-based sexual assault centres. Some wind up at their local hospital’s emergency room because they have been physically injured or to access the services of Ontario’s hospital-based Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Treatment Centres.

Recent research conducted by the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa found that approximately 3,500 sexual assault survivors are treated in Ontario hospitals each year. Lead author, Dr. Katherine Muldoon, noted:

“By combining several [billing] codes, we were able to identify thousands of cases that would have been missed by standard documentation. . . . even the most commonly used code, when examined independently, only captured 30 per cent of cases. Our findings show that sexual assault is a pervasive problem . . . and continued funding for prevention and care is critical.”

The study found that women made up 90% of sexual assault cases treated by hospitals, with the highest rate among young women aged 15 to 19 years. Muldoon also commented that the vast majority of sexual assault survivors do not access hospital care.

But there’s money to be made, too!

One of CBC’s flagship television programs, the fifth estate, is proposing a series of programs about Paul Bernardo, in a move that has deeply divided the staff and caused concern among women’s advocates.

Those promoting the idea say it will shore up the program’s flagging ratings, which will, in turn, lead to increased advertising revenues.

Bernardo is presently serving a life sentence for the abduction, sexual assault and murders of two teenaged girls, Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French almost 30 years ago. He is also generally considered to be the “Scarborough rapist,” for the sexual assaults of more than 12 young women in the late 1980s, although he has not been charged with those crimes.

Emails sent by the fifth estate producers to a number of women’s anti-violence advocates asking to interview them for the series were met by a wall of silence. Jane Doe, Toronto activist and educator and herself the survivor of a high-profile sexual assault called the proposed series:

“intellectually dishonest. It’s an attempt to provide a feminist context for a serial killer and rapist.”

Deb Singh, with the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape, which declined to participate in the series, said:

“I’ve learned a lot of information about one of the most heinous criminals in Canada. But has any of that information taught people about ending sexual violence? There’s a million cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women, how come they’re not picking up any of those stories?”

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