We won’t ever know the unpaid debt that most domestic abusers owe, but no one needs to remind a battered partner how much domestic violence costs her, whether it be her job, her family, her physical and mental health. But what about the social consequences? A new study uses the dismal science to calculate the cost to the victim in terms of her future economic security, and finds that while state intervention may prove invaluable, the personal damage may be irrevocable.
Advocates and researchers have previously calculated various financial estimates of the impact of intimate partner abuse, ranging from $3.9 billion to $7.7 billion annually in the US alone. The costs might include government spending on police and social services. Individually, according to some estimates, abuse has factored into the job loss reported by a quarter to half of domestic violence survivors, and could lead to millions of lost work days.
But statistics on lost income and welfare budgets don’t really capture the burden that follows a survivor through her lifetime. A recent paper by researchers Melanie Hughes and Lisa Brush at the University of Pittsburgh discusses in economic terms the challenges facing a victim seeking to escape abuse through state intervention. Often, the risk of hardships brought on by the escape undermine the benefits of temporary safety.
Examining a set of women from Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2000 who sought court orders of protection (which essentially keep abusers away), the researchers considered whether “Protections offered by the state could decrease exposure to abuse, increase women’s leverage, or both, improving women’s earnings”—or the opposite, leading to more chaos and economic instability.
The researchers cost out various social factors surrounding a court petition process, like whether they accessed public benefits to mitigate the economic “shock.” They found that women faced major challenges related to “the disruptions of leaving their homes, moving and changing jobs, petitioning for protection through the courts, and applying for stigmatized income support through welfare.” These social setbacks compound the effects of abuse, even when she accesses public resources designed to help protect her.
The findings point to chronic struggles that beset abuse victims working toward long-term recovery. The researchers noted that after reaching out to the government for help, women risk sinking into deeper violence and instability, since “men’s abuse could escalate, further obstructing work and diminishing women’s earnings growth.” The impact of starting the petition process, moreover, can be complicated if she gives up before the court order is issued—leaving her without state protection and still exposed to the abuser. The researchers note that “persisting through the court process may be the only way to help women put a stop to abuse and thus mitigate negative effects of petitioning on earning.”