The cost of being an assault survivor


This photo illustration highlights the effects of dometic violence.
Photo credit: Stock photos

A $400 medical expense was not what Kristen was expecting after receiving an MRI resulting from her physically and emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend slamming her head against her apartment wall, dislocating the top portion of her neck.

Looming medical bills and lost wages only account for a portion of the financial burden that many domestic violence and sexual assault survivors face in the aftermath of traumatic experiences.  

A 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Lifetime Economic Burden of Rape Among U.S. Adults” found that the lifetime cost per victim is $122,461. This figure covered short and long-term physical and mental health treatments, lost work productivity, property damages and criminal justice.

The study revealed that estimated medical costs totaled $1.2 trillion; $1.6 trillion in lost work productivity among victims and perpetrators; $234 billion in criminal justice activities and $36 billion in other expenditures. Financial aid provided by government entities topped an estimated $1 trillion of the lifetime economic burden.

For a young woman having to juggle two jobs, an internship, full-time studies at Florida A&M University and maintaining financial responsibilities, Kristen did not foresee domestic violence becoming a point of contention in her life.

September 6, 2014 started off as a seemingly “perfect” day. However, over the course of a ten-hour time span things morphed into a nightmare.

Kristen, whose name has been changed for this article, had been planning a surprise birthday celebration with her then-boyfriend’s stepmother. In addition to the party, Kristen had two tickets to Florida State University’s football game as a gift.

The night of the surprise, she enlisted the help of a friend to do her hair. While sitting on the floor, they heard banging on the front door followed by “Open up the door! Open up the door! You stupid b—h!”

Kristen’s ex-boyfriend forced the door open as she called the police, shattered her cell phone and slammed her head against the wall. She immediately slumped to the floor of her apartment–the force of the impact dislocated a portion of her neck.

Even with insurance covering 60 percent of the $1000 MRI bill, she still had to pay roughly $460 out-of-pocket. She had to cut back on food expenses and depend on financial aid refund checks to make the monthly payments.

Over the course of their two-year relationship and as the violence escalated, Kristen began to miss several days of work from physical recovery and mental health burdens.

“There’s no telling how much money I lost,” said Kristen.

To help eradicate economic burdens placed on survivors, The Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA) established the Crime Victim’s Fund to provide monetary compensation. As of September 2013, the Fund balance had reached almost $9 billion and includes deposits collected by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, federal U.S. courts, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, according to the Office for Victims of Crime.

“When we look at domestic violence or sexual violence, a common theme is power and control. Sometimes, an easy way of taking control of someone is taking advantage of them financially,” said Taylor Novak, community education and training director for the Refuge House.

“We are able to help our clients navigate a lot of funds that are available such as relocation, victim’s compensation, medical expenses, loss of wages, and loss of support,” added Taylor.

Refuge House also assists with transitional housing, credit restoration and establishing new accounts at various banks for those that have been victimized.

When examining the exorbitant costs associated with being a survivor, Novak did not find it hard to believe.

She cited the immediate and long-term physical impacts of violence on the body.

“If it was a domestic violence incident that was severe and they broke bones, not only did they incur hospital expenses for that immediate treatment, they might have developed arthritis. Now they have to undergo that treatment for the rest of their lives that would have never been had they never been abused.”

“With those treatments, we often find costs involved,” added Novak. “(Injuries) might manifest into things that warrant attention for the rest of their lives.”

For additional financial assistance, survivors can apply for victim’s compensation through their state attorney general’s office.