Child sexual abuse victims face long-term financial costs

We often focus on the physical and psychological tolls surrounding child sexual abuse. A large body of research examines the pain and suffering victims endure after abuse occurs. The long-term economic burdens resulting from incidents of childhood sexual abuse are less researched. Yet understanding these costs allows us to focus on prevention and help victims get the help they need to avoid or mitigate further harm.

According to research funded by the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the annual costs to address childhood sexual abuse victims averages to $9.3 billion. This figure includes the victims' needs, costs of the crimes, and loss in productivity among survivors. Over $1 billion of these losses and expenditures involved the relatively small number of the most extreme and violent abuses: those that led to death.

Among survivors, the costs per victim are much higher than most would assume. Of the 40,387 survivors documented in incidents of childhood sexual abuse during 2015, three-quarters of the victims were female and it is estimated that each of these girls or young women who survived will experience costs and losses averaging $283,000 over their lifetimes for the abuses they endured. Costs for male victims remains under-researched.

Some important considerations are below.

The number of abuse victims is higher than we think

Reporting data places the number of victims each year in the tens of thousands, but such data is incomplete at best. Many incidents never get reported, or are discovered many years later only after other events have garnered attention. For example, some victims may have been arrested for drug use, engaged in prostitution or acquired HIV as an adult, or had other situations that were precipitated by sexual abuse that occurred during their childhood years. A nude selfie shared with a friend or stranger under coercion that finds its way onto the internet may lead to many years of shame and depression that no dollar figure can describe.

The costs include problems that occur beyond an abusive incident

In addition to medical costs associated with abuse, there are treatment and health-related costs for anxiety, depression, PTSD, high-blood pressure, and other social costs that may last many years or an entire lifetime. There are also the costs involved in criminal investigations and the need for counseling and treatment of all parties, including those who committed the offense.

Childhood sexual abuse has a high cost to society and the individuals affected. As we work to help victims of abuse and prevent future instances of abuse, it is important to keep in mind the economic damage suffered by abuse victims.