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In The News

In the New York Times this week, Laura Hilgers documented every penny spent on supporting her daughter after she was attacked and raped while at college. Emergency room visits, therapy, rehab, wasted tuition, lost wages, and lifestyle changes are all part of dealing with the trauma of sexual assault:

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It would be impossible for me to describe in the space of a newspaper article the emotional toll this took on Willa and our family: the grief we felt that our child’s body (and soul) had been violated; the anger that we (and the college) could not protect her; the fear that our once spirited, ambitious daughter might never be more than a shell of herself. But I can offer, by way of illustration, a financial reckoning—collateral damage that demonstrates the devastation, and that rarely comes up in the national discussion on campus sexual assaults.

Hilgers links to a White House study from 2014, which contains a chapter about the economic expenses of victims. It predicts that each rape can cost a victim $80,000-$200,000 in direct costs (hospitalization, therapy) and indirect costs (decreased quality of living, lost earning potential).

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In the past 30 years, there have been a number of studies attempting to pin down the quantitative expenses of rape and other crimes. In 1988, Mark Cohen found that the average cost of a rape to its victim was $50,000 (in 1985 dollars). This put it under kidnapping and bombing, but far above most property-related crimes:

Although estimates of physical injury are widely published, no comprehensive national surveys or studies are available for a significant injury to victims – the psychological effects of the crime not directly associated with physical injury. This exclusion is particularly important for rape. Rape trauma syndrome is a well-established medical phenomenon that may result in severe psychological injury…  In comparison, robbery (and attempted robbery) victims had a nervous breakdown rate of about 5 percent. Assault victims were not found to have a significantly higher rate of psychological problems.

Cohen goes a step further to recommend policy implications for his findings—for example, he says, longer sentences as deterrents to the most expensive crimes:

For example, a 10 percent increase in time served for rape would result in about 5,500 fewer rapes. Based on an estimated cost to victims of $51,058, this would yield a benefit of $282 million. Of course, each convicted rapist would now spend 10 percent more time in prison, which would increase the average time from 54.3 months to about 60 months. Based on the number of incarcerated rapists and the cost of imprisonment, this results in an added prison cost of $104 million, or a benefit-cost ratio of 2.7.


Paul Dolan, Graham Loomes, Tessa Peasgood, and Aki Tsuchiya wrote in 2005 about different ways to calculate the costs of crime: asking people what they’d be willing to pay to avoid serious crimes, for example, doesn’t nearly cover the financial compensation awarded by courts in trials, while the actual expense enumerated by Hilgers and others is much larger than both.

Dolan et al. opt for a measure of “quality of life loss” over the rest of the victim’s life, and then work from there. In the crime categories they develop, rape is most expensive:

Aside from murder, rape is the worst outcome, and involve between three and 80 times as much quality of life loss as the other offences. Serious wounding is just over six times as damaging as other wounding, and just over 27 times as bad as common assault.

The authors end by acknowleding the very complicated and uncertain nature of these calculations, but they’re very certain that in all cases, prevention costs less than reparations and rehabilitations.


In many cases, reporting one’s rape can open the doors to financial assistance, but can present financial risks to one’s future career prospects and reputation. W. David Allen explores the “incentive” of reporting sexual assault:

Suppose a victim facing a reporting decision gains utility from two essential goods: social support and legal justice associated with the investigative pursuit of the rape case and apprehension of the offender. Victims who reveal information lose privacy and may encounter social recrimination. To the extent that victims formally demand social support and justice, recrimination and privacy loss act as direct and opportunity costs (or, collectively, as the “price”) of reporting.

Allen works towards a multi-variable analysis of the incentive to report, including the social shame and stigma, the availability of evidence, and known outcomes of previous reported rapes in the same jurisdiction. In all, rape is a uniquely costly crime—to victims and to society.

The financial outcomes as outlined by Hilgers and others will, unfortunately, work against the reporting of rapes until both legal recourse and social services evolve to fill the gaps.


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Law & Society Review, Vol. 22, No. 3 (1988), pp. 537-556
Wiley on behalf of the Law and Society Association
The British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 45, No. 6 (NOVEMBER 2005), pp. 958-976
Oxford University Press
Southern Economic Journal, Vol. 73, No. 3 (Jan., 2007), pp. 623-641
Southern Economic Association