By Lola Duffort/VTDigger
The public costs of domestic and sexual violence total an estimated $111 million a year in Vermont, with more than half that money spent not on direct services to survivors, but on incarceration and law enforcement.
That’s according to a new report released Monday, April 5, by the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which attempts to tally together in one place the economic impact of the problem on the state’s health care, criminal justice and social service sectors.
“We’re really hoping that elected officials take a good, hard look at these costs that are articulated in this report, understand that that’s kind of the tip of the iceberg and then think strategically about how we fund violence prevention,” said Karen Tronsgard-Scott, executive director of the network.
The report also estimates nearly 42,000 Vermonters — children and adults — are affected by domestic violence and abuse each year. The per capita cost to each Vermonter is $177 annually, or about $2,655 per victim.
Annie, a sexual assault survivor who was identified only by her first name, spoke during a Vermont Network press conference Monday afternoon and stressed that her experience was in no way unique.
“Even in this small state — this safe state — violence happens every single day. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to accept that violence is inevitable,” she said.
The advocacy group’s report focuses only on a piece of state and federal public expenditures — the ones from which advocates could obtain data specific to domestic violence. The data does not examine the private financial toll that abuse can have on survivors.
Advocates also estimate 500 children a year become involved with the state’s child protective services because of domestic abuse, though the report excludes those costs because of a lack of data.
By far, incarceration accounts for the largest single expense to the taxpayer. The state spends about $58 million a year to imprison people charged with or convicted of a sexual offense or domestic violence. That doesn’t include the cost of community supervision once someone is released on probation or parole.
The report also estimates law enforcement agencies spend about $4 million a year on domestic violence, and the courts another $1 million.
“We need to reexamine this,” Tronsgard-Scott said of how much of the money goes into incarceration. “Across the country, we’re really examining our relationship to a carceral state and carceral intervention across many issues. And we’re certainly part of that conversation.”
The next largest expense is in health care. The report estimates the state spends $35 million a year, based on Medicaid expenditures for adult victims of sexual and domestic violence and state spending on the Vermont forensic nursing program.
Another $12 million is spent on victim services, which are primarily administered through the 15 private nonprofit groups that form the Vermont Network. These nonprofits offer housing support and staff crisis hotlines; they provide advocacy, help with safety planning, and advocates in family court. More than half of all funding for their services is provided by the federal government.