Surviving Sexual Assault is Expensive

By LB Klein, MSW
*Read a response to this post from Dr. Patrick Brugh here*
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Surviving sexual assault is not only devastating to survivors’ bodies, minds, and spirits; it can also bankrupt them. Supporting survivors means thinking critically about how to alleviate the financial burden of being sexually assaulted. Economic justice is a critical component of building more survivor-supportive cultures.
Sexual assault survivors have bills and long-term financial losses. Those bills can start with the cost of medical care. Survivors may not even go to the hospital because their families cannot afford medical care or because they are concerned that a parent or guardian will receive the bill, forcing them to tell family members about the assault before they are ready. Vital mental health support, or transportation to get to no-cost or sliding scale services, costs money. Purchasing the morning-after pill or prophylaxis to fight sexually transmitted infections requires funds.  
These are just the immediate costs of navigating the health consequences of sexual assault. The long-term costs continue to add up. Survivors may need to treat a sexually transmitted infection, and some infections have lifelong costs, such as HIV. A survivor may become pregnant and could incur the cost of terminating the pregnancy or raising a child. Ongoing therapy bills pile up, or survivors may postpone mental health services because counseling is just too expensive. If survivors choose to report sexual assault or rape to the police, they incur costs in that process, from phone bills to talk to the police, to plane tickets to return to a former city of residence for a court date, to more significant expenses like hiring an attorney.

Moreover, trauma is costly. It is challenging enough to juggle work or school or care taking responsibilities without having survived trauma. Survivors miss work shifts, job interviews, final exams, study abroad opportunities because of the psychological toll of surviving sexual assault. If a survivor chooses to withdraw for the semester to take time to heal, their tuition, housing costs, and fees are rarely reimbursed. Many employers will not accommodate the time away that survivors might need to cope and heal. Seeking justice through a campus conduct or criminal legal system or seeking an order of protection takes time away from work or school. Delays in academics, employment, and promotion opportunities increase a survivor’s financial burden.
Due to fear of the perpetrator, lack of support, or debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress, survivors may drop out of school or be unable to continue in their jobs entirely. They may be fired. They may be expelled from school, or fail out. Survivors who are in romantic relationships with their perpetrators might also face ongoing abuse, including economic abuse. Losing opportunities at work or school may also make survivors more dependent on abusive partners or family members. Failing grades, not finishing a degree, or having a poor track record at work can then directly impact a survivor’s earning potential for the rest of her life.
Researcher Matt DeLisi estimated that each rape costs $151,423, which is compounded if survivors are repeatedly victimized (see: Costs, Consequences and Solutions). Survivors are charged for surviving rape, and those bills often continue long after the immediate aftermath of an incident. To build survivor-supportive communities, we must consider survivors’ needs holistically, including financial needs. To alleviate these costs, we must ensure survivors have swift access to accommodations such as changing classes or housing, shifting work schedules, taking time off to heal, access to medical and mental health services, and refunds on tuition. We must call on schools and employers to not only provide accommodations and support, but to provide them free of charge. We must agitate for survivors to have access to confidential survivor advocates or mental health benefits to help alleviate trauma and its associated financial costs. Beyond the initial aftermath of sexual assault, we must ensure that our schools, workplaces, and communities are invested in survivors’ financial well being for the long haul.
It is imperative that communities invest in preventing sexual assault. Until we can end violence, however, survivors will continue to face significant costs. In the meantime, we can at least work to create systems that keep survivors from being charged for surviving rape.

LB_KleinLB Klein, MSW is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. She primarily builds the capacity of institutions of higher education and communities to implement the Bringing in the Bystander Program. She is based in Atlanta, GA and will begin pursuing a doctorate in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this Fall.

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