The monetary costs associated with healing and justice are borne upon the backs of our victims. Our communities rely on victims to participate in a legal process that is costly both emotionally and financially. We ask this of our victims in order to keep our communities safe from further crime. That is the part of the social contract. However, we do a poor job upholding our end of that contract. The state offers very little in terms of financial support to victims. The victim compensation programs that the state provides are extremely hard to access and are not always trauma informed.
The costs associated are many. For example, we need to consider transportation (to court and sheriff’s offices for many hearings and meetings), time off from work and childcare associated with time in court, etc.
If the victim’s phone is needed for evidence, it can be held for months while the victim pays for a new phone and service. If clothing is required for evidence, then victim will have to replace clothing. If the department of social services gets involved, there are even further costs associated with time off work and childcare. There may have been property damage that requires repair and clean up. There are costs to find safety (changing locks, moving expenses, costs for breaking a lease/selling a home, first month’s rent, utility deposits, etc.).
Many clients require significant healthcare services after an assault. If a client has no insurance or a high deductible, they incur these costs along with their copays.
Associated with healthcare costs is the transportation involved to receive such care. There are often long-term mental health and behavioral health related services and medications which the client requires. These ongoing treatments cost time and money.
There are estimates that “the average rape victim incurs about $5,100 in tangible losses including medical costs, mental health, and productivity losses.”[i]
These immediate losses can be economically devastating for those living in or on the edge of poverty. These unforeseen costs increase the likelihood of homelessness and unemployment which have vast impacts on the ability of survivors to heal from their trauma.[ii] A survivor’s economic recovery cannot be separated from recovery in other aspects of her life.
The overall, long-term intangible costs are even more dire. Those costs are estimated to be about $122,461.[iii] These costs are attributed to lost income, lost productivity, lost employment, disruptions in education, and fallout from debts related to immediate costs mentioned above.
For victims who live in poverty, their ability to cover these costs is non- existent. They have no expendable resources. According to the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, the poverty level in our service area is 12.2%.[iv] As we all know, the poverty level is not a solid indicator of folks who struggle to make ends meet. The unexpected costs mentioned above would be exceedingly difficult to cover for anyone living well above the poverty line here in the Charlottesville area. In fact, according to the United Way ALICE research, close to 44% of people living in our catchment area live just above the poverty line.[v] Therefore, over 60 % of the people in our service area do not have $5,000 of expendable savings to cover the initial costs associated with a sexual assault.
The current safeguards at the state level and within the community are not protective enough for our survivors.
The Virginia victim fund is exceedingly cumbersome and the average processing time is up to six months. The victim fund will only reimburse for expenses paid. This structure precludes access to medical care and other services for those who are unable to pay the initial costs. This means victims of lower means derive less benefit from this “safeguard.”
The victim fund also requires the survivor to “cooperate” with law enforcement and the court process. The costs of cooperation can be high and lengthy. All this burden and the likelihood of a “good outcome” is very low in our criminal justice system.
The victim fund also requires a lot of paperwork which is a challenge to navigate for a person who is living with scarcity. Scarcity takes a toll on our cognitive bandwidth. A lack of bandwidth inhibits the most necessary functions and capacities for everyday life.[vi] Making phone calls and filling out forms are difficult tasks for people facing a lack of basic needs on top of suffering the trauma effects of an assault.
Many local agencies and churches provide emergency financial assistance for energy bills, rent, groceries, etc. However, when a victim is currently living in poverty, they likely have exhausted these programs prior to their assault. The assault put them in a more precarious situation than before. These programs also do not cover medical or transportation needs.
The burden of fronting costs, filling out and gathering paperwork, contacting many different organizations for differing assistance, the processing time, the constant contact with administrators who are not trauma informed is too much for a survivor who is operating in a trauma response mode.
We as a nation and community are failing our clients. Our clients bear the administrative burden of these policy decisions.[vii] The time and energy required to navigate these systems is burdensome.[viii] Thus, our clients suffer indignity upon indignity in order to receive justice and healing.
Can we imagine something different for our survivors? What would it look like to provide low barrier financial resources to support our clients so their basic needs can be met and their journey toward recovery and justice begin?
[vi] Mullainathan, Sendhil., and Eldar. Shafir. Scarcity : Why Having Too Little Means so Much . First edition. New York: Times Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2013. Print.