The gender pay gap doesn’t just reflect men’s dominance in the workplace, it parallels a hidden oppression in the home. As the Trump administration moves to slash social-welfare programs and roll back workplace anti-discrimination protections, the economic war on women is manifested not only through the pain of deprivation but, often, through the violence of abusers.
The social “cost” of intimate-partner violence is impossible to measure in monetary terms, but, statistically, the trauma cuts deep into gender gaps across society. As the social safety net for domestic violence survivors deteriorates, the burden of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse is being compounded by economic uncertainty. For working women facing acute job insecurity and dwindling social supports, domestic abuse may intensify gender inequality—manifesting in eroding wages, rising medical bills, and the tightening financial grip of their partners.
While intimate partner violence (IPV) incidents are already vastly underreported to law enforcement or community members (an estimated quarter of physical assaults and a fifth of sexual assaults are never formally reported), that small fraction of survivors who actually try to get treatment face health-care and social-service costs that are prohibitively costly for many.
According to an analysis by Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), roughly four in 10 survivors of IPV (which includes physical and sexual abuse as well as stalking) experience physical injury as a result of their abuse. Of those, fewer than 30 percent seek some kind of medical treatment, and about the same proportion seek mental-health care. Even still, though exact monetary values cannot be assessed, medical treatment for victims of a rape by an intimate partner was over $3,300 on average “per incident,” adjusted for inflation, and more than $1,500 in mental-health treatment, according to IWPR’s overview of IPV research since the 1990s. Surveys of stalking victims showed they faced an estimated $1,100 in mental-health care costs, and about one eighth had to pay an additional $1,000 or more in personal funds following the abuse, as they dealt with childcare arrangements, lawyers, moving expenses, and other basic recovery needs.
Despite the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act and other federal programs and legal protections against IPV since the mid-1990s, the reverberations of abuse continue to take an outsized toll on survivors, especially during times of austerity budgets and economic instability. Women IPV survivors have reported paying 20 percent higher medical costs compared with their peers’. The final cost is partially absorbed by medical institutions and health insurance, but the rest ends up heaped on those who least deserve it. Survivors, according to surveys, paid about a third of both abuse-related medical and mental-health care costs.