You may be familiar with the archaic adage that “a man’s home is his castle.” It is often invoked against invasions of privacy or as justification for defense of property. While an individual’s autonomy and right to peaceful possession of property are not inherently bad things, this notion of inviolability (especially couched in such overtly patriarchal terms) has been invoked to insidious ends. To this day, many societies permit the cloak of sanctuary to cover up domestic violence, refusing to intercede on “personal” affairs. Increasingly, however, there is an understanding that what goes on behind closed doors can and should be the subject of social regulation. The moral ills of domestic violence are self-evident; it is wrong to harm a spouse or child. Fewer people understand the broader social costs that stem from abuse.
In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted a comprehensive study to determine the cost of intimate partner violence (IPV) against women. The study concluded that the annual costs were $8.3 billion dollars in healthcare alone. The bulk of this number comes from $6.2 billion in treatment for victims of physical violence and an additional $1.3 billion for the value of lost lives. And the CDC stresses that this study almost certainly represents a gross underestimation of the true costs. For one thing, the study only accounts for the costs to women. Women are by far the most affected group, with nearly one in three having experienced physical or sexual violence or stalking. Men are not immune, however, with 14% reporting being physically abused by a partner. Further, chronic under-reporting depresses the numbers. It is all too common for victims to come up with an excuse for their injuries to protect their partner.
The CDC study is also temporally limited in that it only considers the costs in a given year. Even if the violence ceases, the long-term effects can still be a burden on the healthcare system. Increased annual healthcare costs persist for as long as 15 years after the abuse stops. Further, the long-term health costs extend beyond the immediate injuries. The risk of heart disease increases 70%; asthma increases 60%, and incidents of stroke are 80% more likely for those who experience domestic violence.
As if that weren’t enough, there are costs associated with domestic violence that extend beyond medical expenses. Victims of abuse lose an estimated 8 million days of employment, which is the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs. On top of that, the psychological effects are virtually impossible to quantify but are very real. There’s also significant data to suggest that victims are more likely to become perpetrators themselves, creating a vicious cycle of abuse that impacts everyone.
The privacy of the home should be respected but not at the expense of all of society, and certainly not at the cost of an individual’s suffering. We are all responsible for putting a stop to abuse.