$8 trillion: the true cost of domestic violence


dom-violenceA few months ago, during what seemed to be a never-ending summer of war and violence across the world, I started putting together a big list of the world’s largest conflicts, with some brief information on how to help either stop it, or else ease the suffering. Very quickly, I got extremely depressed, as it became clear that, for most wars, clean-up is pretty much all anyone can do from the outside – and not always very effectively at that.

But maybe there’s something else we should be looking at – something on a far smaller scale than the big wars in the news.

Today, I saw a story suggesting that, far from being the world’s biggest violent problem, wars – at least, civil wars – were dwarfed by something much more mundane: individual, interpersonal violence. Especially, domestic violence.

The source for this is a report from the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which put the total cost of interpersonal violence and abuse at $9.5 trillion. Domestic violence alone – including child abuse and intimate partner violence – costs more than $8 trillion.

My first instinct was disbelief – those numbers could not be right. That $9.5 trillion is more than 10% of the global economy. That’s insane!

As the CCC website makes clear, it is fully aware of the context for the number: “The paper shows that the costs of collective, interpersonal violence, harsh child discipline, intimate partner violence and sexual abuse represent 11% of worldwide GDP.”

So yes, it is insane. But it may also be true. The range is also depressing: in high-income countries, the cost may be 1.9% of GDP – while in Sub-Saharan Africa, it may be up to 19% of GDP.

I haven’t had time to go through the full report, and I’m sure there’s lots of ways to tear apart the numbers – but if they are in even vaguely the right ballpark, then they are truly terrifying.

Terrifying, but also hopeful, in a way. Because turning these issues into numbers with a currency symbol attached may be a very smart way of getting the attention of policy makers and the big beasts of international aid – and so getting them to do something about it.

Again from the CCC website: “The cost of homicides are much larger than the cost of civil conflict. However, violence perpetrated in the home appears to be the most prevalent form of violence. Domestic abuse of women and children should no longer be regarded as a private matter but a public health concern.”

I would go further: it should not just be a matter of public health – it should also be an incentive to every private enterprise in the world.

If a tenth of the global economy could be shifted away from the costs of abused children, battered spouses and murdered men, then that’s a tenth of the global economy people could be spending on whatever crappy products companies are trying to shill.

Capitalism has come under a lot of fire lately – largely because it isn’t working for a lot of people. So this is a chance to prove the value of the free market – by getting rid of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual violence, murder and assault.

Go on, lads – do something good for a change.

Image by Ophelia Cherry.

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