Combating domestic violence – an extra chance for a sustainable economy

We all want economic stability and predictability and we are even willing to work to do so. We make plans and strategies, and we set goals. But when we analyze the results, we notice that they are not always what we expected. It’s as if, no matter what efforts we make, we lose money without simply but smartly capitalizing on our work. These are the costs of the abuses that take place in society and that we find difficult to look into. However, we must do this – accept the truth and start working to rectify the situation. Today we continue to talk about #InvestmentForGood, a series of measures to combat inequalities and abuses that, in addition to addressing pressing needs in society, aim to substantially improve the economy.

Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the first of the #16DaysofActivism Against Violence, we clarify how we can address one of the most painful issues facing our society and how the steps that we take to protect and support the survivors of such forms of abuse can make a decisive contribution to the economic well-being of us all.

Violence against women – a problem of the whole society

The General Police Inspectorate of Romania registered 33,274 notifications for acts of domestic violence from the beginning of the year until September. These are not just numbers; all these cases represent destroyed lives. The lives of tens of thousands of women and children that change every year and for the recovery of which we pay a price that we are not even aware of. Many of the victims feel trapped in a maze of abuse and do not talk about what is happening to them, do not report the aggression and continue to live in the same vicious circle from which they feel they cannot get out. This type of behavior is the result of a lack of trust in state institutions, in those who should actually protect and understand those who are struggling to get out of situations of violence. It is the effect of socially accepted and deeply wrong popular ideas that blame the victim and give mitigating circumstances to the aggressor. There are all those beliefs according to which “surely you did something too, he didn’t hit you in vain”, “he beats you because he loves you”, “understand him too, he had a hard day at work”, ” don’t think about yourself, think about the children”.

Acts of violence produce cascading effects, effects that are felt immediately, such as trauma and physical injury to victims, but especially medium and long-term effects that lower the quality of life collectively and that cost us dearly. There is money that we do not use constructively, because instead of treating the cause of this phenomenon and reducing it in intensity, we use it to treat some much more serious and costly effects, both from an economic point of view, but more human.

And although in our daily lives it seems to us that it is a problem of the others, each of us bears the costs of the situations of violence that take place. Because beyond the incredible physical and mental trauma that the victim goes through, violence means something else. It means dysfunctional adults, who can no longer perform and are no longer productive at work, it means traumatized children who will be followed by the violent episodes they went through or witnessed in childhood, it means costs with social services, medical services and administrative and legal services. The problems faced by survivors of violence do not end when the violent episode ends. There are studies that say that women return to abusive partners 5 to 9 times until they manage to leave the relationship permanently. And that’s because they don’t have many options.

In order for a victim to be able to get out of an abusive situation, she needs, beyond courage and support from those close to her, material things – she needs housing, money for food, clothes and other basic needs, she needs counseling or perhaps medical care. Moreover, the situation becomes much more dramatic when a child who needs protection is involved. In many situations of child abuse, the victim feels compelled, under social pressure, to stay with the abuser because, “encouraged” by people around her to forgive the abuser, she comes to believe that it is better for the child to grow up with both parents. It is a perception that brings major harm to both her and the child she is trying to protect. No child will be able to develop properly in an environment where violence and abuse represent a „daily routine”. And the violence will not stop, just because there is a child in the middle. In most cases, the intensity of violent episodes will increase, because the mother will always try to protect the child, endangering her own safety. The victim and the child involved in a situation of violence are never responsible or guilty for what happens to them, and the aggressor must not receive extenuating circumstances, only because he is the victim’s partner or because he contributed to the procreation of a child.

Leaving an abusive relationship is sometimes even more difficult when the survivor works because she needs days off from work, which she can hardly get, but it is not impossible.

What do all these statistics mean economically?

 €239 billion is the annual cost of gender-based violence at European level, according to Eurostat. In Germany, the cost is €41 billion, while in France, it is €34 billion. A study conducted by the European Institute for Gender Equality in the United Kingdom showed that domestic violence costs the British about €13.5 billion and gender violence €28.5 billion. In Romania, the cost is €10 billion, i.e. about 5% of GDP.

Another element that must be taken into account when discussing the costs of the phenomenon of domestic violence, is that the number of reported cases represents an estimated maximum of 20-25% of the actual total of cases that occur. This means that we lose twice – first, because we only deal with the effects of the problem, translated into a direct expenditure of 10 billion Euros, and second, through the medium and long term costs, translated in low productivity at work for domestic violence victims. Whether they are adults or children, the survivors will face a hard time to reaching their true potential to be full-time citizens and taxpayers.

Thus, if we put things in perspective and analyze only the immediate costs of this phenomenon of violence, we will understand more easily how much we pay, literally, each of us this inaction to combat abuse. The €10 billion, the correspondent of 5% of GDP, would mean a sufficient amount to build three regional hospitals, which would cost us about €1.2 billion. Imagine that if we fought only 12% of the reported cases of violence, we would save enough money to build the first three regional hospitals. How much do we want these hospitals and how much are we willing to do to get them?! And with each additional percentage obtained in the fight against violence, we would earn more money, which would be enough for us to carry out other activities related to the construction of these hospitals, namely investments in road infrastructure, rehabilitation of existing hospitals and their operation for a long period of time, high-performance equipment for police officers, digitized administrative services and others.

It is true that all these numbers fade in the face of the traumas the victims go through. But it is equally true that the Romanian society and all other societies lose this money precisely because they fail to protect, as they should, the exposed people. And because they fail to impose measures to ensure that survivors recover as quickly and easily as possible, which would lead to increased general welfare and a more robust state budget.

Our general problem is that each of those who represent the links in the chain that should reduce the phenomenon of domestic violence fails to look ahead. Each of the actors involved, whether we are talking about police officers, social workers, medical staff, judges or other people involved, relate to the situation only on its “piece” – “my responsibility”, “my budget”, “my resource”, without having a clear understanding that their actions or inactions impact the whole process and mechanism, both humanly and economically. Thus, the poor functioning of even one such actor has a much more expensive domino effect, and the cost of this situation is borne by all of us, from the state budget. Let’s not forget – we all are the state.

What can we do to change this?

All the measures we need are at our fingertips. We just need to start taking steps forward – first of all, to realize that we are facing a situation that affects us all and not to remain indifferent to it. Specifically, we can start by not blaming the victims, for the aggression itself or for not leaving the abusive situation. Support in such situations does not mean judging, but being there, listening and showing our willingness to help with what is needed, when our friend, colleague, sister, neighbor, sister-in-law asks us to do so.

At the institutional level, we need to put the needs of the victims first. A first step is the implementation of the electronic monitoring system for aggressors. Thus, the victims will be much better protected, and the number of femicide will seriously decline.

Measures are also needed at company level to support victims to be able to keep their jobs throughout the transition period. Examples of good practice in these areas show that paid days off or flexible working hours for survivors of violence have considerable results for both companies and victims.

Last but not least, we need to talk about the need for serious behavioral rehabilitation programs and services for aggressors. They need to take full responsibility for their actions, they need to understand and accept that they have a problem, and they need to work to fix it. Only later can we discuss its social rehabilitation and the possibility for them, in turn, to become responsible and involved citizens who can contribute to collective prosperity.

Sometimes it is difficult for us to look the abuse in the eye and take a stand on it but I would like to start imagining that this abuse is happening to those close to us and, moreover, not to forget that every time we turn our backs to abuses, we also get money out of our pockets – money that we could use constructively for our own good. Because wellbeing cannot be built only by institutions or politicians, but we need the involvement of all of us. We will not be able to hope for a strong society and economy, capable to resist during serious crises before we deal with violence and abuse. The time has come – abuse concerns all of us and we have to act together accordingly.