Chapter 2
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.109 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.110 Approximately 20 females and two males are hospitalised annually for sexual violence, with an average stay of 23 days,111 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.112 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.113 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.114 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”.115 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.116
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.117 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.118
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”.119
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.120

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.121 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.122
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).123 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.124
2.53The tangible costs identified in the Treasury paper related to policy, prevention,125 health and “private sector” victim impacts, detection, resolution and redress.126 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 2004.127 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.128 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.129

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.130

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.

109Morrison, Smith and Gregg The New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey: 2009 – Main Findings Report, above n 68, at 83.
110Email from Cathy Stephenson, Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care Wellington, to the Law Commission (2 and 3 October 2015).
111Email from Chris Lewis, Ministry of Health to the Law Commission (5 January 2015).
112Linda Beckett “Care in Collaboration: Preventing Secondary Victimisation through a Holistic Approach to Pre-Court Sexual Violence Interventions” (PhD in Criminology Thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, 2007).
113Ministry of Women’s Affairs Lightning Does Strike Twice: preventing sexual revictimisation (September 2012) at 11.
114Jo Lovett and Liz Kelly What a Waste: The Case for an Integrated Violence against Women Strategy (Women’s National Commission, Department of Trade and Industry, 2005).
115Beckett, above n 112.
116Venezia Kingi and Jan Jordan Responding to sexual violence: Pathways to recovery (Ministry of Women’s Affairs, October 2009) at 48.
117Shirley Jülich and others Project Restore: An Exploratory Study of Restorative Justice and Sexual Violence (AUT University, May 2010) at 5.
118Marty Sharpe “Judge blasts family who intimidated young victim of sexual assault” (30 July 2015) Stuff <>.
119Anna Leask “Roast Busters: Alleged victim’s mum fights on” The New Zealand Herald (online ed, Auckland, 30 October 2014).
120Neville Robertson and Heather Oulton Sexual violence: Raising the conversations – A literature review (University of Waikato, 2008) at 16.
121Jülich and others, above n 117, at 5.
122Ministry of Social Development Specialist Sexual Violence Sector Review Report to Hon Paula Bennett, Minister for Social Development (2013) at [7].
123Tim Roper and Andrew Thompson Estimating the costs of crime in New Zealand in 2003/04 (New Zealand Treasury, Working Paper 06/04, July 2006).
124See Ministry of Social Development, above n 122 at [44] and Roper and Thompson, above n 123, at 24.
125STOP, Wellstop and Safe are the three government-funded NGOs who work with those proactively seeking treatment and who received $6.58 million in 2012/2013 to deliver interventions to 712 clients.
126Roper and Thompson, above n 123, at 17.
127Roper and Thompson, above n 123, at 14.
128Roper and Thompson, above n 123, at 3. The cost of sexual violence was estimated to be $1.2 billion dollars in 2006 and estimated to be $1.8 billion in 2012 terms by the Ministry of Social Development: see Ministry of Social Development, above n 122. This was viewed as the most costly of all crimes: at [6].
129Roper and Thompson, above n 123, at 25.
130For more discussion on the economic consequences of family violence and sexual violence on women and the intersection with economic abuse in the intimate partner context, see Emma Smallwood Stepping Stones: Legal Barriers to Economic Equality after Family Violence (Women’s Legal Service Victoria, 2015).