Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Spousal abuse cost us billions

Economic impact of violence in Canada huge

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OTTAWA, Ont. -- A major federal investigation into spousal violence says it cost society at least $7.4 billion for the thousands of incidents that occurred in just one year.

The Justice Canada study examined a broad range of economic impacts, from policing and health care to funerals and lost wages, for every incident of spousal violence in 2009.

Drawing on a Canada-wide police database, researchers found almost 50,000 cases of spousal violence reported to police that year, more than 80 per cent of them involving female victims. The cases included 65 homicides, 49 of them women.

The study also mined an annual Statistics Canada telephone survey, which estimated some 336,000 Canadians in 2009 were victims of some form of violence from their spouse. The definition of spouse included married, common-law, separated, same-sex and divorced partners.

The authors then meticulously accounted for all costs associated with the violence, from the obvious -- legal bills for prosecutions and emergency-room visits -- to the painfully personal.

The latter includes purchasing special telephone services, such as call display, to identify a stalking spouse or ex-spouse, usually male; or moving expenses incurred to escape harassment and assault by relocating to another community.

Altogether, total costs were conservatively estimated at $4.8 billion for female victims and $2.6 billion for male victims.

"Spousal violence is a widespread and unfortunate social reality that has an effect on all Canadians," says the 145-page report, completed this fall and obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

"Victims of spousal violence are susceptible to sustaining costly and long-lasting physical, emotional and financial consequences. ...Every member of society eventually feels the impact of spousal violence through the additional financial strain imposed on publicly funded systems and services."

The study is the third produced by Justice Canada since 2011 on the comprehensive cost of crime, all using similar methodology.

The first looked at the economic impact of all reported crimes in 2008 ($99.6 billion); the second, the costs of gun-related crime in 2008 ($3.1 billion). The latter was never published, given the politically charged subject matter, but was obtained earlier this year by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

A Vancouver academic who has conducted her own costing research into women who have left abusive partners welcomed the study as strong evidence that violence against women remains all too prevalent in Canada.

"There's this 'you've come a long way, baby' kind of ethos in Canada... where people have a sense that perhaps violence is lessening, perhaps it's less of a problem, perhaps women have greater equality, and that translates into less violence," Colleen Varcoe said.

"There simply isn't any evidence of that."

Varcoe was lead researcher for a 2011 study that examined in detail costs associated with a sample of 309 women who left abusive partners. The study then extrapolated the annual economic impact across Canada for all such abused women at $6.9 billion. Differing methodologies do not allow for direct comparison with the Justice Canada study.

In the Justice Canada study, researchers found Canada's justice system bore only about seven per cent of total costs, including legal aid. Third parties -- such as employers, social-service agencies and children -- incurred some 12 per cent.

Victims themselves bore the greatest cost burden, at more than 80 per cent or some $6 billion in 2009.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2012 A17

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