One year's losses for child sexual abuse in US top $9 billion, new study suggests

May 21, 2018, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

A new study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that the annual economic impact of child sexual abuse in the U.S. is far-reaching and costly: In 2015, the total economic burden was approximately $9.3 billion and includes costs associated with health care, child welfare, special education, violence and crime, suicide and survivor productivity losses.

The study, published in the May 2018 edition of the journal Child Abuse and Neglect, used data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System to gather a full census of all child sexual abuse cases reported to child protective agencies across the U.S. In addition to estimating the 2015 annual cost, the researchers calculated the average lifetime cost per victim based on specific categories such as health care, child welfare, etc. These were tied to the incremental effects of child sexual abuse, over and above what the cost would be to someone who wasn't a victim of child sexual abuse. All costs were estimated in U.S. dollars and adjusted to the reference year 2015 using the gross domestic product deflator.

The highest costs for women and men affected by child sexual abuse—more than $1,000,000 in estimated losses—were associated with the rare cases of fatal child sexual abuse. In 2015, the majority of child sexual abuse survivors were female, 75 percent versus 25 percent male survivors of 40,387 total cases reported in the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. Nonfatal child sexual abuse was associated with nearly $283,000 in costs over the lifetime of each female survivor. Lifetime costs for male survivors were lower, most likely because the of child sexual abuse on male survivors is underresearched.

"Most people appreciate the immense mental and physical health toll of child sexual abuse on victims, but that knowledge has been insufficient to prompt serious investment in primary prevention efforts," says study author Elizabeth J. Letourneau, Ph.D., a professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Mental Health and director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. "I hope that presenting a credible estimate of the fiscal toll of child sexual abuse will inspire policymakers to designate resources toward the development, evaluation and dissemination of prevention efforts that protect children from experiencing their first abuse, rather than focusing almost solely on after-the-fact approaches."

Previous studies have found that there are many negative effects that reach beyond the immediate event and include increased risk for mental, physical and behavioral health disorders across victims' lifetimes. Child sexual abuse is also associated with an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, self-inflicted injury, substance use disorders and violence.

In the U.S., child sexual abuse ranks twelfth among preventable risk factors that account substantively for the U.S. burden of disease, but there has been little research looking specifically at the economic burden of child sexual abuse. (Only three studies have estimated the costs of child sexual abuse.) In one study, researchers estimated the costs to be $125,000 per victim, per year, which was higher than that attributed to victims of child physical abuse ($77,000).

Limitations of the current study include limited availability of high-quality data on the economic impact of nonfatal child sexual abuse on male victims. Also, it was difficult to estimate the appropriate valuation of the quality-of-life loss. Lastly, the estimate of total lifetime economic burden of child sexual abuse is likely to be underestimated because researchers relied on reported cases and it has been widely recognized that these cases are underreported.

A current estimate of the of child sexual abuse in the U.S. is a critical step for drawing attention to the need for more robust prevention efforts, which include an increase in federal funding for sexual prevention research. Research shows that credible cost estimates for illnesses help the public and policymakers identify public health problems and demonstrate the impact on individuals and societies. The availability of accurate, up-to-date estimates will contribute to policy analysis, facilitate comparisons with other public problems and support future economic evaluations of -specific policy and practice.

Explore further: Child sexual abuse in US costs up to $1.5 million per child death, study finds

More information: "The economic burden of child sexual abuse in the United States" Child Abuse and Neglect (2018).

Related Stories

Child sexual abuse in US costs up to $1.5 million per child death, study finds

March 29, 2018
Child sexual abuse in the United States is costly, with an average lifetime cost of $1.1 million per death of female victims and $1.5 million per death of male victims, according to a new study.

Child abuse common in Vietnam

December 11, 2017
Child abuse is a common problem in Vietnam. All forms of child abuse – emotional and physical – have a negative emotional effect on the child. In some cases, the child's physical health and memory are also affected. These ...

Warning follows report into online child sexual abuse risk

January 23, 2018
If the public are serious about wanting to protect children from online sexual abuse more investment in skilled professionals is needed now.The stark warning comes from researchers following publication of a new report commissioned ...

Women who sexually abuse children are just as harmful to their victims as male abusers

August 21, 2017
"That she might seduce a helpless child into sexplay is unthinkable, and even if she did so, what harm can be done without a penis?"

Abuse as a child brings a lifetime burden—study finds a third of self-harm due to abuse

November 17, 2015
Child maltreatment contributes up to a third of depression, self-harm and anxiety, the first Australian study to calculate the burden of child abuse on society has found.

Study links child abuse, high school dropout

December 1, 2017
Children who have been victims of violence are more likely to drop out of high school before graduation than their peers, according to a new study co-authored by a Duke scholar.

Recommended for you

Diagnosing and treating disorders of early sex development

June 19, 2018
Diagnosing, advising on and treating disorders of early sex development represent a huge medical challenge, both for those affected and for treating physicians. In contrast to the earlier view, DSD (Difference of Sex Development) ...

Use of alternative medicines has doubled among kids, especially teens

June 18, 2018
A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics shows that since 2003, the use of alternative medicines, such as herbal products and nutraceuticals, among children has doubled. The University of Illinois at Chicago researchers who ...

Virtual reality headsets significantly reduce children's fear of needles

June 18, 2018
The scenario is all too familiar for the majority of parents. The crying, the screaming and the tantrums as they try to coax their children into the doctor's office for routine immunizations. After all, who can't relate to ...

Both quantity and quality of sleep affect cardiovascular risk factors in adolescents

June 15, 2018
A study from a research team led by a MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) physician finds that both the quantity and quality of sleep—the amount of time spent sleeping and the percentage of sleep that is undisturbed—in ...

Ingesting honey after swallowing button battery reduces injury and improves outcomes

June 11, 2018
A team of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists has demonstrated that eating honey after swallowing a button battery has the potential to reduce serious injuries in small children. Based on findings in laboratory animals, ...

Bifidobacteria supplement colonizes gut of breastfed infants

June 10, 2018
Supplementing breastfed infants with activated Bifidobacterium infantis (B. infantis) bacteria had a positive impact on babies' gut microbes for up to a year, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.