March 2014 Bar Bulletin
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March 2014 Bar Bulletin

The Cost of Intimate-Partner Violence Is Often Unspoken

By Jamila A. Johnson

 

We talk about domestic violence and sexual assault with stories and statistics. This is the language of our conscious self in uncomfortable arenas. And I am usually pretty good at using this language.

Over the years, I have attended a number of benefits, symposiums and conferences on intimate-partner violence. As the former chair of the Seattle Women's Commission, I heard the haunting stories firsthand: tales of power, control and abuse so raw that stomachs turn in sympathy. I have heard the statistics; mouthed them; written them. I have consciously chosen when to say "survivor" and when to say "victim."

I suspect I could qualify as an interpreter in the language of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. But I am going to forget that language for the time being so I can say something that I think is not said enough: Domestic violence and sexual assault hurt our economy.

I have thought this numerous times over the last decade, but seldom said it because it doesn't translate well into the language of intimate-partner violence. It is often the part of the story that seems to resonate less and the statistic that sounds too crass.

The first time I tried to talk about the cost of rape in terms of stories, I relayed a conversation I had with a 20-something survivor. She had quit her job rather than tell her male employer why she was in the hospital after she was brutally raped. I fell off track and lost the economic cost component.

The rest of her story was so horrific, was such a tale of strength and character, that I minimized the very points I had hoped to convey. My time was up. I did not get to explain that she did not get unemployment compensation. I did not get to explain that she had to break her lease. I did not explain that she moved into her parent's small apartment. I did not explain the medical bills. I did not explain the cost of therapy.

The first time I tried to talk about the cost of intimate-partner violence in terms of statistics, I stood before a group and explained that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had found that intimate-partner violence costs exceed $8.3 billion annually. I explained that this number included $460 million related to rape, $6.2 billion for physical assault, $461 million for stalking, and $1.2 billion in the value of the lives of those who were killed.

I watched the eyes of the crowd glaze over. Perhaps it is because people appear less comfortable with statistics, especially when they hear those statistics for the first time. Perhaps they could tell that I am no different, that I didn't trust the numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention either. I didn't trust the numbers because they did not account for costs associated with the criminal justice system and I have no idea how to determine the value of a life lost.


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