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Consequences and costs

Last edited: October 31, 2010

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There are multiple consequences of violence, having immediate and short-term to inter-generational effects. The consequences and costs of violence have impacts at the individual level (for survivors, perpetrators and others affected by violence), as well as within the family, community and wider society, which translate into costs at the national level.

Individual and Community Consequences and Costs

Costs due to violence against women and girls—beyond the intangible suffering and impacts on quality of life and well-being--include costs to the survivor and her family in terms of health (mental and physical), employment and finances, and the effects it has on children. Out of ten selected causes and risk factors for disability and death among women between the ages of 15 and 44, rape and domestic violence rated higher than cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war and malaria (World Bank, 1994). Some of the consequences and costs include:

  • immediate injuries such as fractures and hemorrhaging, and long-term physical conditions (e.g. gastrointestinal, central nervous system disorders, chronic pain);

  • mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, attempted suicide;

  • sexual and reproductive health problems, such as sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), and other chronic conditions; sexual dysfunction; unintended/unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortion; risks to maternal and fetal health (especially in cases of abuse during pregnancy);

  • substance abuse (including alcohol);

  • poor social functioning skills and social isolation and marginalization;

  • death for both women and their children (from neglect, injury, pregnancy-related-risks, homicide, suicide and/or HIV and AIDS-related);

  • lost workdays, lower productivity and lower income;

  • overall reduced or lost educational, employment, social, or political participation opportunities; and,

  • expenditures (at the level of individual, family and public sector budgets) on medical, protection, judicial and social services.

(Heise, et al., 1999; Heise and Garcia-Moreno, 2002; UN General Assembly, 2006)

Beyond the direct and short-term consequences, child witnesses of violence are more likely to have emotional and behavioural problems, perform poorly in school and be at risk of perpetrating or experiencing violence in the future. Businesses and employers can incur financial losses on account of absences due to the health consequences inhibiting the survivor from working; incarceration of the perpetrator; and expenses related to additional security measures that might be needed in the workplace. (Bott et al., 2005; TC-TAT, 2008; UN General Assembly, 2006; Walby, 2004)

Violence against women reduces productivity and drains public budgets. Violence against women has enormous direct and indirect costs for survivors, employers and the public sector in terms of health, police, legal and related expenditures as well as lost wages and productivity.

  • According to a study in India, a woman loses an average of at least 5 paid work days for each incident of intimate partner violence, while in Uganda, about 9 percent of violent incidents forced women to lose time from paid work, amounting to approximately 11 days a year.

  • Annual costs of intimate partner violence were calculated at US$5.8 billion in the United States and US$1.16 billion in Canada. In Australia, violence against women and children costs an estimated US$11.38 billion per year. In Fiji, the annual estimated cost was US$135.8 million or 7 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in 2002. Domestic violence alone cost approximately US$32.9 billion In England and Wales.

The costs and consequence of violence against women last for generations. Children who witness domestic violence are at increased risk of anxiety, depression, low-self esteem and poor school performance, among other problems that harm their well-being and personal development. In Nicaragua, 63 percent of children of abused women had to repeat a school year and they left school on average 4 years earlier than other children. Children, both girls and boys, who have witnessed or suffered from gender-based violence, are more likely to become victims and abusers later in life. For example, surveys in Costa Rica, CzechRepublic, Philippines, Poland and Switzerland revealed that boys who witnessed their father using violence against their mother were 3 times more likely to use violence against their partners later in life.

Sexual violence deprives girls of education. School-related violence limits the educational opportunities and achievements of girls.

  • In a study in Ethiopia, 23 percent of girls reported experiencing sexual assault or rape en route to or from school. In Ecuador, adolescent girls reporting sexual violence in school identified teachers as the perpetrator in 37 percent of cases.

  • In South Africa, 33 percent of reported rapes of girls were perpetrated by a teacher. Many girls changed schools or left school as a result of hostility after they reported the violence.

Violence harms reproductive, maternal and child health.Gender-based violence severely restricts women’s ability to exercise their reproductive rights, with grave consequences for sexual and reproductive health. As many as 1 in 4 women experience physical or sexual violence during pregnancy. This increases the likelihood of miscarriage, stillbirth and abortion, as well as premature labour and low birth weight. Between 23 and 53 percent of women physically abused by their intimate partners during pregnancy are kicked or punched in the abdomen. Violence limits women’s access to family planning, which can potentially decrease maternal mortality by an estimated 20 to 35 percent by reducing women’s exposure to pregnancy-related health risks. Women who experience violence tend to have more children than they themselves want. This not only shows how little control they have over decisions affecting their sexual and reproductive lives, but also reduces the potential demographic benefits of reproductive health, estimated to reduce poverty by 14 percent. Harmful practices also damage maternal and child health. Child marriage resulting in early and unwanted pregnancies poses life-threatening risks for adolescent girls: pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of death for 15-to-19-year-old girls world-wide. Female genital mutilation/cutting increases the risks of obstructed labour, childbirth complications, newborn deaths, postpartum bleeding, infections and maternal mortality.

Violence fuels the HIV and AIDS pandemic. Violence limits women’s ability to protect themselves from HIV, and women living with HIV or AIDS are often the targets of abuse and stigma. Young women are at especially high risk of both HIV and gender-based violence: they represent approximately 60 percent of all the 5.5 million young people in the world living with HIV and AIDS.Women are already 2 to 4 times more likely than men to become infected with HIV during intercourse, with forced sex or rape increasing this risk by limiting condom use and causing physical injuries. In the United States, 11.8 percent of new HIV infections among women over 20 during the previous year were attributed to intimate partner violence.  Studies from Tanzania, Rwanda and South Africa suggest that women who have experienced partner violence are more likely to contract HIV than those who have not. Up to 14.6 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia reported that when they disclosed their HIV status, their intimate partners subjected them to violence, and fear of violence is a barrier to women disclosing their status and accessing appropriate care.

Life is dangerous for women and girls on streets and in city slums. Women in poor urban areas are especially at risk of physical and psychological violence. They are twice as likely as men to experience violence, particularly in developing countries. In São Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.lum dwellers]

Other studies reveal that:

  • In Chile, women’s lost earnings as a result of domestic violence cost US$1.56 billion or more than 2 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1996, and in Nicaragua  US$29.5 million or 1.6 percent of the national GDP in 1997. (Morrison and Orlando, 1999)

  • In Guatemala, the the costs of violence amounted to the equivalent of 7.3% of GDP (UNDP, 2006).
  • In Uganda, the annual cost for hospital staff treating women for intimate partner violence-related injuries is US$1.2 million. (International Center for Research on Women-ICRW, 2009)

  • In Morocco, intimate-partner violence costs the justice system US$6.7 million annually. (ICRW, 2009)

  • In New Zealand, violence against women and children costs at least 1.2 billion New Zealand dollars annually (Snively, 1994)

  • Domestic violence costs US$1.38 million annually (as of 2006) in Macedonia. (Gancheva, et. al., 2006)

  • Across Europe, the annual cost of intimate partner violence ranges from €106 million in Finland, (Heiskanen, et. al., 2001 cited in Hagemann-White, C., et al. 2006) US$142.2 million in the Netherlands, (Korf, et. al., 1997, cited in Waters, et. al., 2004) US$290 million in Switzerland, (Yodanis and Godenzi, 1999 cited in Duvvury, et. al., 2004) to US$19.81 billion in Sweden (Enval and Erikssen, 2004).

  • In Viet Nam, the out of pocket expenditures and lost earnings by women who experienced domestic violence were estimated at 2.53 billion Viet Nam Dong in 2010 (UN Women, 2012).

See the References for these costing studies.


Additional Resources:

Intimate Partner Violence—High Costs to Households and Communities (ICRW and UNFPA, 2009).  Available in English.

Addressing Violence against Women and Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (WHO, 2005).  Available in English.

Estimating the Costs and Impacts of Intimate Partner Violence in Developing Countries A Methodological Resource Guide (ICRW, 2009). Available in English.

Costs of Intimate Partner Violence at the Household and Community Levels: An Operational Framework for Developing Countries (ICRW, 2004). Available in English.

The Costs and Impacts of Gender-Based Violence in Developing Countries: Methodological Considerations and New Evidence (World Bank, 2004).  Available in English.

The Economic Dimensions of Interpersonal Violence (WHO, 2004).  Available in English.