The Violence Against Women Act Saves Money–And Lives

Under the guise of deficit reduction, politicians are taking a hacksaw to a number of women’s health and economic programs. Ironically, however, the same politicians are avoiding renewing an existing initiative that actually saves the government money–as well as saving women’s lives.

The Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, initially passed in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000 and 2005, is up for reauthorization again this year. The law declares that domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking are federal crimes. It also improves criminal justice and community-based responses to such violence, creates legal assistance programs for victims and develops prevention strategies. As a direct result of the federal law, states have passed their own laws making stalking a crime and treating date and spousal rape as equal to stranger rape. More victims are reporting violence and more women are getting help.

If that doesn’t move politicians to renew the act, then cold hard calculation should. As previously reported by Ms., the loss of productivity that results from violence against women has a substantial impact on our economy:

A 2003 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the costs of intimate partner violence in the United States alone exceed $5.8 billion per year: $4.1 billion are for direct medical and health care services, while productivity losses account for nearly $1.8 billion.

The American Institute for Domestic Violence estimates that “victims lose nearly 8 million days of paid work each year, the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs.”

The Violence Against Women Act addresses this economic problem directly. As the National Network to End Domestic Violence reports [PDF]:

VAWA not only saves lives, it also saves money. In its first six years alone, VAWA saved taxpayers at least $14.8 billion in net averted social costs. A recent study found that civil protection orders saved one state [Kentucky] on average $85 million in a single year.

Three women researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill broke down the savings with a study of costs of domestic violence such as direct property losses, medical and mental health care, police responses, victim services, lost productivity, death and reduced quality of life. They determined that VAWA saves $159 per U.S. woman. It costs only $15.50 per U.S. woman, leading to a total savings of $4.8 billion.

No action has yet been taken to reauthorize the bill, which expires at the end of 2011. Meanwhile, the most recent House budget proposes cuts to some VAWA programs, though it preserves most of the previous year’s funding levels.

Funding for the Violence Against Women Act must be preserved, and VAWA must be reauthorized. It saves money and, more importantly, it saves lives.

Photo from Flickr user DonkeyHotey under Creative Commons 2.0

This blog is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival. Read more HERvotes posts by Ms. and other women’s groups.

Cross-posted at hld6


Holly L. Derr is the Head of Graduate Directing at the University of Memphis and a feminist media critic who uses the analytical tools of theater to reflect upon broader issues of culture, race and gender. Follow her @hld6oddblend.