By Heather Mullinix
Violence against women comes with a hefty price tag, including medical care, prosecution and lost productivity. The Tennessee Economic Council on Women is holding a series of hearings on the subject to determine the extent of those costs, as well as the cost of lost opportunities.
"These hearings are revealing that preventing these crimes is not only a moral obligation on the part of society, but correcting that will have a positive effect on the economy of our state. We're spending millions on this problem," said Jane Powers, vice-chairman of the hearing.
The price tag for violence against women not only includes the cost of caring for victims and prosecuting offenders, but also costs associated with education, social services, long-term care and mental health and costs to businesses. There is also the cost of "lost opportunities," such as increased earning power and reduced need for public assistance.
Jerry Wood, with the Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce, said the lost productivity and work time associated with domestic violence was "staggering."
He shared statistics regarding lost work time and increased health care costs.
Women sometimes lose their job because of harassment on the job or because of missing work.
"That can cause the women to have to depend on government assistance," Wood said. "Employers have to make money and produce their products. There may be instances where they have to let somebody go, and a lot of times, that employee is not going to tell them why they weren't there yesterday. It's very embarrassing. It's very personal."
Nearly 8 million work days are lost to domestic violence each year in the U.S. Wood said 20 percent of work days missed by women is due to domestic violence and 56 percent of women who are victims of domestic violence are late to work while 28 percent leave work early.
"A little over half miss work completely, and you're not going to know why a lot of the time," Wood said.
Abusers may also waste worker productivity by calling and harassing their victim or stalking the victim, requiring additional security measures at the cost of the employer.
According to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Tennessee, more than $32.9 million is spent on medical care for injuries and health care related to domestic violence, with more than 642,000 women suffering injuries. Domestic violence adds about $7.9 million to employer costs for health insurance coverage while female victims pay about $1,775 more in health care costs each year.
Those additional costs to businesses can mean the state loses an advantage in recruiting new industry to the state, Wood said.
"Recruitment is a game of slithering advantages," Wood said. "When you're trying to land a prospect, they look at everything."
Wood noted data for the topic was not easily accessed, and obtaining data specific to Cumberland County, for example, was very difficult. He looked at the TECW 2006 report on the economic impact of domestic violence.
"These studies are very conservative. More than likely, it's much larger than this," Wood said.
Assistant District Attorney Caroline Knight, using data from the 2003 Centers for Disease Control study on domestic violence and the 2006 TECW report, attempted to provide an idea for how domestic violence impacts Cumberland County, but noted data collection was a barrier.
Since January 2013, 87 orders of protection have been issued in Cumberland County, with 21 cases of violation of order of protection and three domestic violence cases handled by the judicial commissioner, Knight said.
Time missed from work is estimated at 8.1 days for victims of rape, 10.1 days for victims of stalking and 7.2 days for victims of assault for each victimization. Using 2012 arrest data, Knight estimated 4,374 days of lost work in Cumberland County.
Cumberland County Sheriff's Investigator Casey Cox reported protocol in Cumberland County required two officers to respond to domestic violence calls.
"A domestic violence investigation is one of the most dangerous responses," he said.
That adds to the cost of fuel and manpower to respond to a sense. Officers will spend a minimum of four hours at a scene, up to hundreds of man time between local law enforcement and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in homicide cases.
It costs $60 to $70 a day to house an inmate in the county jail, and those arrested on charges of domestic violence must be held 12 hours.
On the front lines of the fight against domestic and sexual violence is the Avalon Center, which serves five counties in the Upper Cumberland. The center offers a 24-hour crisis line, advocates to assist victims in obtaining help from the justice center, a shelter for women and children, anti-bullying programs for school-age residents, support groups and offender education programs.
Last year, the Avalon Center served 1,066 adult victims and 76 sexual assault victims, seeing a higher number of clients than crimes reported.
"There is a gap because sometimes they are more comfortable with the advocate," explained Sara Cannon, program director.
The center has a budget of $750,000, not including in-kind donations and volunteer work hours. Some of that funding is from grants, but much comes from donations and thrift store revenues. There are five full-time employees and six part-time employees.
"Resources are dwindling and we get used to wearing lots of hats," Cannon said.
The local hospital absorbs many costs of treating victims of sexual assault, being compensated $750 by the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination fund. Victims are not billed for services, but the cost of their care can far exceed the payment provided. Avalon partnered with Cumberland Medical Center to provide trained nurses to perform sexual assault exams in the Emergency Room. But medical costs are only part of the cost of care. Sometimes women need long-term mental health care to address their injuries.
"I would like to see more focus on mental health care because that can be at least half of the total cost of treatment," said Eric Chamberlin, general counsel for CMC.
Carol Berz, vice chair of TECW, questioned the lost opportunity cost, which can be quantified in economic terms, on the state and victims of domestic violence.
Wyatt said many women that seek help leaving abusive relationships face challenges finding work due to child care needs, transportation, education and training.
"They can't get out of the system if they can never rise above that situation," Wyatt said.
Berz said, "We're looking at what the economic impact of the problem is, but the missed opportunities may be more important."
TECW will hold a public hearing in each of Tennessee's nine development districts before producing its report in October 2013. For more information on TECW, visit www.tn.gov/sos/ecw/.