Led by UBC Nursing Prof. Colleen Varcoe, the study – published in a recent issue of Canadian Public Policy – is the first in Canada to comprehensively identify the spectrum of economic costs for services used by women who leave a violent partner.
Overall, the annual bill for violence rings in at a total of $13,162 per woman across health and non-health sectors, and within public and private domains. This estimate represents the use of health, legal and social services.
“What our findings make clear is that ‘leaving’ is not a panacea,” says Varcoe, stressing that leaving decreases, but does not end the cost of violence to the system.
“In pointing out the economics of violence,” adds Varcoe, “we are also showing the human costs which are incalculable. As a society, we must do a better job of prevention, early detection and support for women at risk to violence.”
The study analyzed categories of cost to publicly funded programs and services that include hospitalization, X-rays, visits to the doctor, legal aid, children protection worker, unemployment insurance and social assistance. The study also calculated private, third-party costs such as psychologist, dentist, counseling and food bank use.
“We found that food banks account for a staggering 80 per cent of the non-health, private, third-party costs, which in this case are borne by charitable organizations,” says Varcoe.
Also dramatic, says Varcoe, are the number of doctors and emergency room (ER) visits. Analyzing data for ER visits, the researchers estimate that women who have left violent partners went to emergency units 24 times per month (at $180 per visit) as compared to the Canadian female norm for the same age group of one ER visit per month. Similarly, the data shows 1.9 physician visits (at $47 per visit) per month compared to the norm of 0.37 physician visits per month.
The costs were identified by collecting service use and other data from 309 women who had left an abusive male partner within the previous three years. From B.C., Ontario and New Brunswick, the women were interviewed every year for five years.
To determine how much of the costs were due to violence, the researchers compared the women’s use of services to that by women of a similar age in the general population. To arrive at the number of women in Canada impacted by intimate partner violence, the study used raw Statistics Canada data. The 2006 Census confirmed there were 10.3 million women in Canada aged 19-65. About one in ten – 1.3 million women – were legally separated or divorced, and not living with a partner.
The researchers then cross-referenced these statistics against findings from the 1993 “Violence Against Women Survey” (VAWS), the largest population-based survey focused on violence in Canada. The VAWS data show that 50.7 per cent of women reported physical assault from a former partner, 22.8 per cent in the three years preceding interview. The team then applied these percentages to 1.3 million women.
This allowed the investigators to make conservative estimates of $6.9 billion if including women have left abusive partners in Canada, and $3.1 billion if only including women who experienced violence in the past three years.
Varcoe says the study signals an urgent need for better coordination of responses that integrate health, social services, justice, education, and corporate sectors, and services oriented long beyond the immediate crisis of “leaving.”
The study’s co-investigators are: Assoc. Prof. Olena Hankivsky, Institute for Critical Studies in Gender and Health, Simon Fraser University; Nursing Assoc. Prof. Marilyn Ford-Gilboe, University of Western Ontario; Nursing Prof. Judith Wuest, University of New Brunswick; Asst. Prof. Piotr Wilkk, Departments of Pediatrics and Epidemiology and Child Health Research Institute, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario; Nursing Research Coordinator Joanne Hammerton, University of Western Ontario.