The economic cost of violence against women


16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign, spearheaded by the United Nations,  which takes place each year, and runs from 25 November, (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women), to 10 December (Human Rights Day),

‘16 Days Campaign’ is used as an organizing strategy by individuals and groups around the world to call for the elimination of violence against women and girls.

Pod Academy’s Isabella Grotto went to talk to researcher and campaigner, Betsy Stanko, Honorary Professor of Criminology at Royal Holloway, University of London and to Diana Nammi and Sara Browne of IKWRO (Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation) which works on so-called ‘honor based’ violence such as forced marriage, domestic violence and female genital mutilation.

They looked at the shocking levels of violence against women in Europe, described earlier this year in the research report, Violence against women:
an EU-wide Survey and at the work Betsy Stanko has done in quanitfying the economic costs of violence against women.  

Refuges in the UK are closing, and cuts in legal aid have had a devastating impact on women’s safety.  But Betsy Stanko says this is very shortsighted, and not only as a moral issue.   The costs of violence against women and children reverberate down the generations.

Here is the transcript of the podcast:

Isbella Grotto:  Earlier this year the EU issued a report on violence against women, which made headlines in the UK and beyond. Based on interviews with over 40,000 across 28 EU member states, it revealed that one in three women had reportedly experienced some form of physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15.

Betsy Stanko: I think what’s important about the recent EU study is that one has some comparative data; but also what we find in that study is it seems like the countries where the conversation about violence against women is the most advanced, that is they talk about it as something that is common in their lives, they actually have the highest numbers of reports of violence against women. So Sweden has high figures in this study, the UK has high figures and I think that has something to do with enabling women to name what experience they have had better than women in other countries, where they just think it’s something that women endure, it’s just part of their lives and it’s not an unusual thing to be named. What we’re saying is that it’s common, but it’s also something that we don’t want.

IG: As early as the 1990s Betsy’s research focused on investigating the issue of violence against women from an economic perspective. In particular, it sought to analyse the cost to society of these crimes.

BS: I did my first walk up Fifth Avenue in 1971, I started a refuge for battered women in 1978 and I’ve done lots of work around rape and sexual violence as well. I think we, as feminist researchers, spent a lot of time trying to quantify how much violence against women there was, a lot of work on naming it and changing the concept and moving it from “that’s just what it’s like to be a woman” to “we would like to be able to not have this in our lives.
By the Nineties it was always a debate around how much, how prevalent, and to me I thought, well, prevalence is one thing, but actually it’s a hidden cost; not only the consequences in terms of how you bear that cost, that is individually as a woman you bear that cost, but I was trying to move the argument from: “it’s an individual problem” to “it’s a societal problem”, because the consequences are actually very costly, particularly in a welfare state.
Now, not only has that been borne out over time, but actually there are different discourses now, in terms of thinking about the issues. Even in a troubled family discourse, that is, what are the kinds of family that draw most on the public purse, what you find in those families are high levels of violence, high levels of violence against women and high levels of violence against children. I wanted to elevate it out of “it’s only feminists saying this” to: “this is actually a wider societal issue, which everybody needs to take seriously” and to move government policy on from debating the feminist to debating a better society.

IG: What were the costs you encountered as typical in this research?

BS:  Well, if you try and look at the costs in terms of the public purse in the first instance, you look at policing, courts, cost of injunctions, so civil courts; you look at health, GPs, emergency rooms, psychological services, mental health issues, homicide, disruption of schooling – if you look at schooling as well, people don’t do as well – and there are all kinds of public costs.
If you do something specific to reduce domestic violence, then you are actually trying to reduce the costs for all of us, and I think that is so important because we couldn’t get people to take the issue seriously; because it was almost siloed into “only feminists are concerned about this”, we had to move it from “only feminists are concerned about this” to everybody.

Isabella speaks to Diana Nammi, director of campaign and support organisation IKWRO, which works to support the rights of women from Afghanistan and the Middle East, including in the counteraction of so-called honour-violence. When asked which she believes are the most significant financial costs of violence against women, Diana gives the case of Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year old British-Kurdish girl living in South London who was murdered in 2006 on the orders of her uncle and father as punishment for her relationship with a man not sanctioned by the family.

Diana Nammi: First of all, I have to say, the biggest cost is investigating a murder case. I think if we compare Banaz’s case, for example, when she was killed the government spent millions of pounds, I don’t know how much exactly, but I know for sure it was huge money and lots of people were involved in investigating the case and to pay for the trial and judges, the whole system, it took more than a year. And still her case is not closed, because just recently another perpetrator of her case has been charged. So I think this is the highest cost for government, which is ridiculous. I mean it is ridiculous for two reasons: first of all, if we save them they are alive and we save the life, which is extremely valuable and the most important; secondly, if those people are alive and not dead tomorrow they are working, they pay tax, they will contribute to society, when they are killed they cannot do any of that. She has been killed, but on the other hand the government has to pay for the investigation, for the solicitor, for everything, plus pay for life sentences for the perpetrators, which in Banaz’s case is more than six people now.

BS: The impact of violence against women I think stacks differently on different women. Some women get it harder; it’s so much harder because they have other barriers and exclusions that they have to manage. And when you have all of that happening at the same time, I think there are some women that it’s harder for and I think perhaps that’s the debate that the feminists had in the ‘70s and the ‘80s and the ‘90s, which was talking about how violence against women could happen to anybody; that’s true, but I think it falls much more heavily on some than others.

Sara Browne: If the government are hands-off and this kind of violence is allowed to happen that is incredibly damaging on many levels, not just to individuals, but to the community and community relations in the UK. For us to live in a multi-cultural and positive society, we need to really address the negative issues and not allow them to continue and foster, because I think the damage is huge.

DN: If we spent money in raising awareness within the community, making sure that crime is reduced, making sure that people are happy and healthy within the community, and ensure that we are really developing and helping our young people to have a positive contribution to society, the whole society, as British and not just Kurdish or Pakistani or Afghani, it will help to develop and progress the whole community, the whole society.

IG: In light of this analysis, do you believe women’s organisations still have an important role to play?

BS: I think there’s always a case for women’s rights organisations and especially in countries where the conversation is more mature than others, only because violence against women is one of the major problems for women everywhere in the world and to have people whose job it is to think differently about an age-old problem, is really important.

SB: I would go on to add to that that it’s really, really important that specialist organisations like IKWRO get proper funding, because as we’ve been discussing the value for money is huge and I think it’s very dangerous to cut away, as is happening, at organisations like ours, because it takes a lot of work to get them going and get them properly operational and it’s kind of naive to assume if you just cut everything away…we do a lot without funding, but it’s short-sighted, because the knock-on implications for all those women who don’t get support, their children, and so on…you’re creating more vulnerability and vulnerability leads to costs.

BS: I think the reason why it’s important is because women who have different characteristics experience violence differently, so sometimes it’s a really big part of their life, an almost overwhelming daily event, and sometimes it’s smaller, but it’s also cultural as well.
And to get the language of support services around cultures where they might not recognise violence, or it has been saturated by their lives, then it’s really important for, almost, the people who support those in those situations to know that actually almost every facet of the support they need to get has to do with impact of violence and that’s why it’s really important. Because the way silence works may be different, whether you tell somebody or not, whether you’re expected to put up with it because it’s part of your life, whether it affects your ability to go to school or practice your faith, all of those things. Can you actually tell a priest, or a rabbi, or a mullah or whatever, what’s going on?

IG: is there a danger this kind of analysis might serve to somehow depersonalise the issue of violence against women?

BS: If somehow you tout up pounds and pence, that somehow that is diminishing the experience of violence? It’s just another way of expressing the burden and I also think that people do think differently when they realise it costs you money. I mean, it’s, again, moving it into the centre of a government debate, as opposed to the periphery, because if it’s the centre of the debate then actually it is about core funding; it isn’t a luxury to do work on violence against women and I think that has been borne out. Reducing domestic violence and its impact on children is a core offering, it’s not a peripheral offering.
If you want a healthy society, that you want your children to grow up in a way that’s the healthiest possible, both mentally healthy and physically healthy, then we know the best way of doing that is to mitigate against woman abuse. For example, the best fight against child abuse is the fight against domestic violence; it just makes perfect sense and actually that is what the evidence suggests. To me, the economics are: if you can mitigate against violence against women, starting at the earliest intervention possible, then actually it makes much more sense, economically, to do that, because it is a public purse; the burden of managing violence really is part of our tax base and that’s the important thing that we were trying to say twenty or something years ago, that if you think about this as something we all have to pay for, whether you like a conversation about violence against women or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about liking it, it’s not about being a feminist, it’s about actually having a better, healthier society.

If you were to take a look at how many people in prison have experience violence, how many people grew up in domestic violence, how many men  who are in prison grew up in situations of domestic violence, how many women in prison have experienced domestic violence, it’s hugely high. So if you start looking at special populations who need additional and take such higher resources from the public purse, it just makes perfect sense to me why you would use that as an economic argument. Even if you don’t care about prisoners, you would want to make sure that everybody was getting the maximum benefit out of their tax pound as possible, particularly in times of recession and economic stress.

IG: Is this analysis still capable of shaping government policy?

BS:  I think it has now become part of the debate, it is something that is now understood, it’s the kind of thing that almost routinely gets footnoted and noted. I think it is just part of the way that a case is made now, it’s not unusual, again, because we’re still in a position where public service expenditure is something that’s important.
In order to maximise wellbeing, you have to then think about putting more resources into the places that need it the most.

IG: what are the policy implications?

BS: I think early intervention is the next big step; and the other big part is those of us who have experienced the worst, and I would suggest we think very differently about our prison population as well, and those who are chronically ill. So, I would then focus universal services in schools and some very specialised services for those who have already demonstrated how much more need they have.

DN:  I think the most important thing is for government to not talk about issues of political correctness in letting communities within the UK down, because of their political agenda somewhere else. This is important [if we are] to think of the UK as one community, rather than lots of separate communities.
This is the first thing; the second thing, I think government needs to, I know this is a financial difficulty, but having legal aid is very, very important money to be spent that allows lots of vulnerable people to be entitled to their rights. I think government really needs to think twice about what they are doing with legal aid and this lets many people down, including and especially women from minority communities, who have no savings, no money at all to pay for solicitors, or their divorce, so it will force vulnerable people to stay in a vulnerable situation.

SB: It’s short-sighted as well, because it ends up costing so much more money if you don’t help people out. When you give people the right opportunity and do something efficiently and you then set them back on their feet again, actually then many of those women have gone on to have very successful careers and contribute, and also you don’t have all those knock-on effects of the children being vulnerable and having needs which all costs morally, as well as financially. So I think there are a lot of short-sighted cuts.

BS: The evidence is now so compelling that some universal approach is necessary. I am not sure government as a whole is addressing the issue, but that is where the evidence is now compelling that there should be early intervention; so I do think the government needs to be reminded that that’s where policy ought to be…they’re not there yet.

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