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Every American Pays for Rape

Jennifer Wyse
By Ivey Noojin
April 19, 2019

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and it is important to understand how the trauma of rape affects every taxpayer: Many sexual-assault survivors depend on federal, state, and local government programs to help heal, recover, and restart their lives.

According to a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, rape costs 25 million victims more than $3 trillion over the course of a lifetime. Individuals struggle with impacts of the abuse, including medical and psychological trauma, as well as legal, employment, and housing issues.

The CDC researchers found that about $1 trillion of those expenses fall to government agencies. Overall, a survivor’s lifetime costs add up to more than $122,000 per person with nearly $39,000, or roughly one-third, coming from government sources. Those costs include survivors’ services provided by federal, state and local criminal justice agencies.

Moreover, individuals who do not have stable incomes, have not attended college, or are people of color or undocumented face even more difficulties grappling with their trauma. A 2018 National Resource Center on Domestic Violence survey of advocates for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and social services and anti-poverty workers found that most rape survivors who already experience economic difficulties rely on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); another 20 percent collect unemployment benefits.

The higher the level of oppression someone faces, the more challenges there could be economically after a sexual assault,” says Jennifer Wyse, the supervising social worker at the New York-based Safe Horizon, the largest nonprofit service organization for sexual abuse survivors in the United States.

It’s easy to ignore the prevalence of sexual assault. Some people conclude that if the abuse hasn’t happened to them or one of their loved ones, then the issue doesn’t affect them. But every 92 seconds someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. And taxpayers will carry the fiscal burden for the social and emotional costs that sexual-assault survivors have to deal with for the rest of their lives.