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March 28, 2002 -- No. 185

Analyses of Violence Against Women Act suggest legislation saved U.S. $14.8 billion

By DAVID WILLIAMSON
UNC News Services

CHAPEL HILL -- Cost-benefit analyses of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 suggest the legislation, which provided $1.6 billion for various prevention programs over five years, saved $14.8 billion in net social costs that otherwise would have been incurred.

The analyses, done for the first time, concentrated on costs related to direct property losses, medical and mental health care, police responses, victim services, lost productivity, death and reduced quality of life. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health conducted the study.

A report on the work appears in the April issue of the journal Violence Against Women. Authors are Kathryn Andersen Clark, who is completing a doctorate in public health; Dr. Andrea K. Biddle, associate professor of health policy and administration; and Dr. Sandra L. Martin, associate professor of maternal and child health.

"The Violence Against Women Act was a bipartisan effort between the Clinton administration and Congress in 1994 aimed at protecting women because research increasingly showed that women were the victims of violent crimes," Clark said. "The intent was to create a safer environment for women by providing money to increase penalties for abuse and improve resources for police, prosecutors, various service providers and others."

Clark decided to undertake the study when the act was coming up for renewal last year to determine whether the legislation had any measurable effect. Biddle and Martin were her advisers.

Using data available through the National Institute of Justice, they compared victimization rates for women from 1992 and 1993 before the act passed with rates from 1996, after its passage. Factored into the analysis was information from an earlier report by researchers Mark A. Cohen and Ted R. Miller estimating the costs of specific crimes such as fatal, non-fatal and sexual assaults.

While the act cost $15.50 per U.S. woman, the team concluded it saved $159 per U.S. woman in averted costs of criminal victimization. Using minimum possible costs for the various crimes that did not occur, the act resulted in $47 saved per woman and $4.8 billion saved overall.

"This kind of study, which is called a gross cost estimation, suggests that the Violence Against Women Act is, economically and socially, a very beneficial federal program," Clark said. "Because of certain reasonable assumptions we had to make, we canít say definitively that the act led to the documented declines in violence against women after its passage, but thatís what it looks like."

A further computation, known as a sensitivity analysis, showed that even if the act was responsible for only 10 percent of the reduced victimization, the nation was still saving money by funding the efforts, not to mention less distress among victims, families and friends, she said.

"This is particularly compelling because the costs we are averting relate to reducing personal crimes and boosting womenís safety," Clark said. "A recent national study showed that 55 percent of women experience some type of violence in their lifetimes, and thatís just unacceptable."

She said that while net savings figures might be overestimates, because of conservative figures used, they might also be underestimates of savings.

"Researchers and practitioners who work with violence victims have long known that violence is a costly public health problem in terms of the emotional and physical suffering of violence victims and the financial costs to society," Martin said. "We are just starting to examine the effectiveness of various intervention programs in alleviating these costs."

"Violent victimization against women is indeed costly in both humanistic and economic terms," Biddle said. "The act, known as VAWA-I, and the programs that resulted from the legislation have begun to move us toward reducing the toll of violence. Kathryn Andersen Clarkís research provides the first opportunity to look at the net benefit to society of the legislation."

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Note: Clark can be reached at (704) 947-7947, Martin at (919) 966-5973, Biddle at (919) 966-7377.

Martinís office can fax copies of the study, and Clark has an electronic version.

Contact: David Williamson, (919) 962-8596, or Dan Barmmer, (919) 962-0352