May 24, 2018
2 min read

US cost of child sexual abuse over $9 billion in 2015

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The total lifetime economic burden of child sexual abuse in the United States was estimated at about $9.3 billion in 2015, according to findings published in Child Abuse and Neglect.

"Most people appreciate the immense mental and physical health toll of child sexual abuse on victims, but that knowledge has been insufficient to prompt serious investment in primary prevention efforts," Elizabeth J. Letourneau, PhD, professor in the department of mental health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, said in a press release.

In their study, Letourneau and colleagues examined data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System to gather a full census of all child sexual abuse cases reported to child protective agencies across the U.S. and provide an estimate of the economic impact of child sexual abuse, according to the press release.

The researchers measured health care costs, productivity losses, child welfare costs, violence/crime costs, special education costs and suicide death costs, and separately estimated quality-adjusted life-year losses. Using the best available secondary data, they also developed cost per case estimates for the 2015 annual cost and for each category. All costs were measured in U.S. dollars and adjusted to the reference year.

Letourneau and colleagues found the lifetime economic burden of child sexual abuse was roughly $9.3 billion in 2015 ($8.6 billion for female victims and $758 million for male victims), based on 20 new cases of fatal and 40,387 new substantiated cases of nonfatal abuse that occurred that year. The lifetime cost related to fatal child sexual abuse was $1,128,334 and $1,482,933 per female and male victim, according to the researchers. The cost for female victims includes $22,730 in medical costs and $1,105,604 in productivity losses, whereas the cost for males includes $21,751 in medical costs and $1,461,182 in productivity losses. These costs increased by about $40,000 per victim when including quality-adjusted life-years.

The average lifetime cost for victims of nonfatal abuse was $282,734 per female victim; however, for male victims of nonfatal child sexual abuse, there was not enough information on productivity losses, therefore it yielded a lower average estimated lifetime cost — $74,691 per male victim. According to the results, childhood health care costs accounted for $580 million, adulthood medical costs for $399 million, productivity losses for $6.8 billion, child welfare costs for $337 million, violence/crime costs for $98 million, special education costs for $152 million and suicide death costs for $980 million of the total costs associated with nonfatal cases.

“The U.S. now focuses broadly on proven and promising child maltreatment prevention policies and practices targeted primarily toward new and expecting parents and young children. The U.S. has not, however, focused broadly on the prevention of [child sexual abuse],” Letourneau and colleagues wrote.

“Despite the obvious appeal of preventing sexual harm from occurring in the first place, many people view [child sexual abuse] as uniquely unpreventable and, therefore, most efforts involve after-the-fact criminal justice interventions that target known offenders,” they continued. “It is hoped that a credible, comprehensive and current estimate of the national financial burden of [child sexual abuse] will bring attention to the high but unmet potential of [child sexual abuse] prevention programming and serve as a benchmark against which to evaluate cost effectiveness of subsequent prevention efforts.” – by Savannah Demko

Disclosures: Healio Psychiatry was unable to confirm any relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.