Prevalence and harm of sexual violence
Cost of sexual violence
Harm to victims
2.40It is well-recognised by the literature that victims bear direct physical and psychological consequences of sexual violence. For example, the 2009 NZCASS reported physical injury occurring in 43 per cent of incidents of sexual violence, although most injuries were described as not serious in nature. This reflects the experience of Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care, who state that most sexual violence incidents do not result in physical injury, except perhaps minor scratches and bruises. Approximately 20 females and two males are hospitalised annually for sexual violence, with an average stay of 23 days, with the length of the stay implying that serious physical injury has occurred as a result of the sexual violence.
2.41Acute physical effects that must be managed can include injuries, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy. In the longer term, the impact on the immune system of the severe stress incurred as a result of sexual violence can lead to somatically-induced effects including back pain, tension headaches, skin disorders and other health effects.
2.42The psychological and emotional effect on victims is also severe. Dr Linda Beckett (whose research was an evaluation of services/interventions and whether these had the capacity to meet the support and service needs created by sexualised violence without causing secondary victimisation) mentioned well-documented immediate effects such as feelings of shock, hysteria, disbelief, disgust, fear, guilt, confusion and feelings of powerlessness. Common experiences in the slightly longer term were also outlined by Beckett in her later work with victims, including sadness, suicidal thoughts, not going out, difficulty sleeping, non-enjoyment of relationships and intrusive thoughts. Victims may self-harm or abuse alcohol or drugs in order to displace intrusive thinking.
2.43A number of submitters on our Issues Paper commented on the long-term nature of the harm to victims resulting from sexual violence. These include depression, decreased functioning, sleep disturbances, mood swings, denial, sexual dysfunction, difficulty forming relationships, phobias, pre-occupation with the event and fear of solitude or withdrawal/social isolation.
2.44Victims of sexual violence are also at a high risk of future sexual victimisation. A 2012 report by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs found that victims of child sexual abuse are at least twice as likely to be sexually assaulted later in life. The same study also concluded that at least 50 per cent of girls and women who are sexually assaulted are likely to be victimised again.
2.45As recognised by Kelly and Lovett, victims have different degrees of resilience and cope with sexual violence in different ways. As such, and as Beckett has noted, it would be inaccurate to suggest “that sexual violence has deterministic outcomes” – rather, it is accurate to say that “all victims cope and react differently and this depends on the circumstances of the rape and others’ reactions”. It is the phrase “others’ reactions” that is at the heart of this Report, referring as it does to secondary victimisation and the risk that the response to victims (in this case, the criminal justice response) further harms rather than helps victims.
Harm to families/whānauTop
2.46Sexual violence also causes harm and trauma to families and whānau. Figures from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs state that, in 59 per cent of cases, sexual violence is perpetrated by a family/whānau member or current or ex-partner, which causes deep mistrust and pain within family and whānau groups.
2.47Families/whānau can be placed under severe strain as a result of sexual violence, for example, when supporters side with either the victim or the perpetrator. A recent case in the Gisborne District Court highlighted this, when two relatives of a victim of family/whānau sexual violence were jailed for attempting to pervert the course of justice by forcing the victim to retract the claims made against her uncle.
2.48Even if it is not intra-familial, sexual violence can leave the family/whānau and friends of the victim feeling powerless. In one alleged assault case, a mother said that she felt she had failed her 13-year-old daughter, “like I wasn’t there to protect her”.
2.49One submitter who was a nurse also noted the potential impact of sexual violence on social relationships, parenting and on the victims’ children. Children who grow up with family/whānau dysfunction, such as that stemming from sexual violence occurring in their household, are at an increased risk of sexual victimisation or sexual violence perpetration in future.
Wider social and economic consequencesTop
2.50Sexual violence is not generally considered an economic crime, but an understanding of the significant financial costs of sexual violence has begun to emerge over the last few decades. These costs are incurred not only by the victim but also the perpetrator, their family and society. Direct individual costs include legal fees and loss of income and costs incurred in accessing medical and welfare services to help with the physical and psychological effects of the abuse.
2.51There are costs on society, as it is charged with policing, providing a criminal justice system, court services, detainment, and providing welfare and compensation provisions for victims. In 2012/13, ACC costs for sensitive claims clients were $33.6 million.
2.52A New Zealand Treasury working paper entitled Estimating the Costs of Crime in New Zealand included the cost of prevention and dealing with the consequences of sexual violence in its calculation, and concluded sexual violence is the most costly sub-category of crime, costing $72,130 per incident (compared with, for example, robbery which is costed at $23,100 per criminal act, and violent offences which are costed at $8,910 per criminal act). This is around 13 per cent of the total cost of crime, despite sexual offences constituting only one per cent of reported crime. Only 18 per cent of this cost was met directly by government (including Police, courts, corrections and health services), leaving the rest of the cost to be borne by private individuals, households and businesses. Treasury estimates that the private sector (including households and individuals) bears a significant proportion of the cost of sexual violence through the intangible costs of psychological effects, pain and suffering.
2.53The tangible costs identified in the Treasury paper related to policy, prevention, health and “private sector” victim impacts, detection, resolution and redress. In terms of identifying the intangible loss borne by the private sector (including individuals), the study identifies a lack of New Zealand data and instead relies on data from the United Kingdom converted into New Zealand dollars using the OECD’s purchasing power parity for GDP for 2004. On that basis, the total cost of sexual violence was estimated by Treasury to cost $1.8 billion per annum across both the public and private sector. The community-based sexual violence sector was not included in this Treasury paper, although we know that in 2012/13 government agencies funded $29.07 million to the sector.
2.54These figures fail to take into account spending that can be indirectly attributed to the consequences of sexual violence. For example, sexual violence may lead to increased alcohol and drug dependence issues, but because the sexual violence is undeclared, the link is not made and resulting costs of sexual violence are not fully identified.
2.55These figures also fail to adequately recognise the extent of economic harm that is a consequence of sexual violence. Examples include the assumption of debt by a victim if their partner was the perpetrator and was imprisoned, the loss of a job if a victim needed to relocate, for example, into a shelter or refuge, or the need for a victim to assume full responsibility for the household and children if their partner was the perpetrator and imprisoned (including increased childcare costs or decreased work time to avoid childcare costs).
2.56Neither do these figures capture the scenario, for example, where a victim cannot meet the household bills because they could not work due to the trauma, power is cut off by the electricity provider and the victim is too ashamed to ask for help from that provider. The lack of electricity contributes to health problems which in turn leads to increased use of health system resources.
2.57These figures do not foresee the economic cost to New Zealand of victims who face such financial hardship as they are unable to plan for superannuation.
2.58It is clear that the economic costs that arise as a consequence of sexual violence can be significant, are currently unquantifiable and result in an economic burden for both the victim and the wider community. The extent to which that burden can be linked to sexual violence is further complicated because sexual violence may occur at the same time as family violence, and differentiating the downstream economic consequences of the sexual violence distinct from the family violence is extremely difficult.
2.59Even preventing sexual violence through education has costs. High-profile media campaigns are estimated to cost $4 million per annum, and even smaller-scale community-based action without television and radio coverage can cost around $1 million per annum.
2.60Of course, should the recommendations presented in this Report be adopted, there will inevitably be significant costs involved. If the numbers of victims who report sexual violence and enter the criminal justice system or use the alternative justice process increase – indeed even if the numbers of victims accessing improved support services increase – the cost will be large. We consider, however, that the cost of the interventions and improvements proposed in this Report will mitigate and avoid many of the long-term and unquantifiable costs cited above.