April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in the US, which highlights that someone is assaulted every 2 minutes, 80% of victims are under the age of 30 and 54% of assaults go unreported. In recognition of this alarming public safety problem, it is important to take stock of the individual and societal costs. Sexual violence has direct, life-long implications for employment, housing, education and finances across all kinds of assault and for all types of victims and their families.
Sexual violence undermines employment if the trauma associated with it causes poor work performance or missed days, which can result in job loss. Additionally, future earning opportunities may be hampered by gaps in employment history. Regarding housing, most sexual assaults take place in or near victims’ homes or those of friends, relatives, or neighbors. Because of the effects of trauma, economic insecurity, and lack of resources in the aftermath, safe and affordable housing often becomes even further out of reach.
During college, a woman has between a one in four and one in five chance of being raped. Women who experience sexual violence or stalking at school are more likely to miss classes, find it difficult to focus and drop out of school. As a result, they can lose scholarships and interrupt or abandon their career paths. Survivors who drop out of college often face the burdens of student loans and no degree to improve their earning potential. Teen survivors cope with similar consequences. Failure to attain a high school diploma profoundly impacts their ability to achieve economic security because career opportunities are limited and earnings are lower without a diploma. As a consequence, these survivors are vulnerable to further victimization as adults.
Out-of-pocket expenses for sexual violence victims include medical bills; property losses; relocation; reduced productivity; and non-monetary losses like fear, pain, suffering, and reduced quality of life. The average rape victim incurs about $5,100 in tangible losses. Intangible losses like lost quality of life are estimated at $87,000. Unfortunately, sexual violence and economic insecurity form a cycle in which the high toll of sexual abuse makes it vastly more difficult to escape economic insecurity and those in poverty are more likely to experience sexual abuse.
Obtaining economic justice (restoring survivors to their financial state prior to victimization) may allow a rape or sexual assault survivor to remain employed, stay in school or retain a scholarship. These are all key to keeping her safe from being further victimized by the same perpetrator and to reducing the long-term risk of future victimization. Direct service providers can offer housing, employment training and resources to help put survivors back on a path to economic security. The criminal justice system can document the economic impact of a sexual assault and fight for economic justice. And because everyone probably knows someone affected by this problem, you can take advantage of SAAM to learn about this problem, participate in SAAM events and advocate for policies that keep survivors safe and economically secure.