You may be familiar with the archaic adage that “a man’s home is his castle.” It is often invoked against invasions of privacy or as justification for the defense of property. While the autonomy of an individual and the right to peaceful possession of property are not inherently bad things, this notion of inviolability (especially expressed in such overtly patriarchal terms) has been invoked to insidious ends. To this day, many societies allow the cloak of sanctuary to cover domestic violence, refusing to intercede on “personal” matters. However, it is increasingly understood that what happens behind closed doors can and should be subject to social regulation. The moral evils of domestic violence are obvious; it is wrong to harm a spouse or a child. Fewer people understand the broader societal costs that result from abuse.

In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted a comprehensive study to determine the cost of intimate partner violence (IPV) against women. The study concluded that annual costs were $8.3 billion dollars in health care alone. Most of this number comes from $6.2 billion in treatment for victims of physical violence and an additional $1.3 billion worth of lives lost. And the CDC emphasizes that this study almost certainly represents a gross underestimate of the true costs. For one thing, the study only accounts for the costs to women. Women are by far the most affected group, with almost one in three having experienced physical or sexual violence or harassment. However, men are not immune, with 14% reporting being physically abused by a partner. Furthermore, chronic underreporting depresses the numbers. It is very common for victims to make an excuse for their injuries to protect their partner.

The CDC study is also time-limited in that it only considers costs in a given year. Even if the violence stops, the long-term effects can still be a burden on the health system. Increased annual health care costs persist for up to 15 years after the abuse stops. Additionally, long-term health costs extend beyond immediate injuries. The risk of heart disease increases by 70%; asthma is increased 60%, and stroke incidents are 80% more likely for those experiencing domestic violence.

As if that weren’t enough, there are costs associated with domestic violence that extend beyond medical expenses. Victims of abuse lose approximately 8 million days of employment, which is equivalent to 32,000 full-time jobs. On top of that, the psychological effects are virtually impossible to quantify but very real. There is also significant data to suggest that victims are more likely to become perpetrators, creating a vicious cycle of abuse that affects everyone.

The privacy of the home must be respected but not at the expense of the whole of society, and certainly not at the expense of any individual’s suffering. We are all responsible for ending abuse.

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