Study: Domestic violence costs NC $308 million a year

October 2014

The Charlotte Observer
By Cleve R. Wootson Jr. -
OCTOBER 23, 2014 7:32 PM

Domestic violence costs North Carolina more than $300 million every year because of factors such as health care and criminal-justice expenses, according to a study commissioned by two domestic violence advocacy organizations.

Leaders of the Charlotte-based eNOugh Campaign and the Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage hope that their estimate of the total costs of domestic violence to be released to the public Friday will encourage policymakers and corporations to do more to prevent the crime.

Three women have been killed in domestic violence homicides in Mecklenburg this year, including one last week, according to the Mecklenburg Women's Commission. An additional 53 people have been killed in other parts of the state.

Jill Dinwiddie, eNOugh co-chair and former executive director of the N.C. Council for Women, said she hopes the study spurs the legislature to put money toward a domestic violence prevention campaign, similar to campaigns about the dangers of smoking cigarettes.

"This study gives us ammunition now to go to the legislature and say ... why don't we begin to look at prevention and figure out some way to raise awareness (about) what a healthy relationship is and what an unhealthy relationship is," she said.

Debra Wideman, a former victim of domestic violence who now counsels other women with Pearls for Creative Healing, a nonprofit that serves domestic violence survivors, said she was happy to see someone taking a look at the economics of domestic violence.

She estimates that 15 years of an abusive marriage cost her $80,000.

She called in sick to work to let her bruises heal in secret. She used vacation time to flee her husband and escape to the homes of out-of-state relatives. Twice she had to go to the hospital for injuries too severe to hide, including a dislocated shoulder.

"It was trying to save my house. It was getting my car repaired after he damaged it. It was bailing him out of jail after I had him put into jail," she said. "It all ran into one. It was emotional and physical, but it was also financial."

Dinwiddie and the study's other backers said they couldn't find prior data about the economic impact of domestic violence, which makes it hard to talk to policymakers about the financial benefits of prevention.

"What people haven't stopped to think about is: What is the cost, what is the economic impact?" said Jay Everette, community affairs manager for Wells Fargo, which funded the $45,000 study. "We just felt like it was another strategy to help educate, to help make people aware and to begin to change some attitudes and perceptions around the issue."

The Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage was started by Deputy Charlotte City Manager Ron Kimble, whose daughter was killed by her ex-boyfriend on Labor Day 2012. The eNough Campaign, which aims to prevent domestic violence and raise awareness in North Carolina, was started in 2013. It is now a program of the Kimble foundation.

Among the costs, according to the study:
• Domestic violence costs North Carolina $307.9 million per year. That's $32.26 per resident. 
• Killings account for $42.8 million of that amount. Researchers got this figure by multiplying average lifetime earnings by the average number of domestic violence victims each year.
• Physical health care related to domestic violence costs the state $123.9 million 
• Combined, police and court costs related to domestic violence cost state agencies $63.6 million. 

Stephen Billings, the UNC Charlotte economics professor who authored the study, looked at prior surveys to determine how often people in North Carolina reported being victims of domestic violence. He also reviewed studies that reported how often domestic violence led to homicides, hospital visits and court cases.

Then he found dollar amounts related to those services the average cost of a police officer responding to a domestic violence call, or the price of prosecuting an assault case through the courts.

Billings said the cost of domestic violence in North Carolina may be greater than the figure he came up with. The research doesn't take into account the costs to service providers such as the battered women's shelter, or the impact on children. The study also didn't take into account some costs borne by individuals. Also, Billings said, a lot of domestic violence goes unreported.

"A lot of people will not report it or not press charges, even when it seems pretty apparent," Billing said.

Mike Sexton, a spokesman for the Mecklenburg Women's Commission and a domestic violence awareness advocate, says this is the first time he's seen an organization try to look at the total economic impact of domestic violence in the state.

He said that in making requests for contributions and donations, shelters and advocates are often asked to put a dollar amount on how much money will make a dent in the problem.

"If you're going to be knocking on the doors of corporate America, every piece of data helps," Sexton said. STAFF RESEARCHER MARIA DAVID CONTRIBUTED.