That figure represents what one year of child abuse cases will cost the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control. For context, consider how that dollar amount is more than the annual budgets for 47 of our 50 states.
It may seem crass to speak of child abuse in financial terms but money talks, and perhaps if a cost is put on the long-term damage child abuse does to our society, it will finally become a public health priority.
Public health policy has long been dominated by discussions of the untold human misery diseases cause in tandem with the economic costs they inflict on society. There needs to be these same types of discussions in the fight against child sexual abuse and it needs to be made crystal clear that the horror of child abuse affects us all, whether we choose to admit it or not.
In the CDC report, they found that children who survive neglect, physical abuse, psychological abuse or sexual abuse cost the country an estimated $210,012 during their lifetimes. Those costs come from increased strain on the country’s criminal justice, education, health care and welfare systems. An abuse-related death costs the country an estimated $1.27 million, most of which comes from “productivity losses.”
Billions are spent each year successfully reducing the incidences of cancer, heart disease, smoking, and diabetes. The money is spent in an effort to give people not only a better quality of life, but also with the knowledge that the money being spent now will save having to invest more in the future.
The CDC’s findings illustrate how important it is to understand the entire impacts and costs of child abuse. The abuse is can be prevented, but only if it is treated like the public health crises it is and resources are pledged to fight it.
The CDC report mirrors recent similar findings by the Catholic Church. A 2013 audit presented to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops revealed that in the ten years prior the Church spent a total of $2,744,876,843 in costs related to abuse allegations, which includes settlements, therapy for victims, support for offenders, attorneys’ fees, and other costs.
After generations of dismissing allegations of sexual abuse by clergy and sheltering pedophile priests in their midst, the Catholic church has begun to take steps to fight child *sex* abuse. I have no doubt the realization they have spent almost $3 billion in the U.S. alone has been a prime motivation.
Child abuse needs to be a public health priority and the number one social challenge of our day. Prevention, offender treatment, and public education demand resources and this CDC report illustrates all to clearly that if we don’t pay now – we will pay dearly later.