We Pay the Cost of Every Sexual Assault in California, and it’s $140 Billion a Year

Women from the Ya Basta! Coalition, a statewide group of janitorial workers and advocates, march in support of legislation passed in 2016 that increases protections against sexual violence for California’s janitors. Photo Credit: California Coalition Against Sexual Assault

We’ve heard the individual stories, tagged #MeToo and #TimesUp on social media.

But what about the collective cost of sexual assault?

Research we published last month shows that the annual cost of sexual violence in California is $140 billion.

Statewide, every prevented rape of an adult could save up to $163,800 and every prevented rape or sexual assault of a child could save up to $227,700.

In 2012 an estimated 948,000 California residents were sexually assaulted.

The report makes our charge clear: Rape is costly. Physically, emotionally and economically, the toll on victims is high. We need to invest in prevention in order to reduce personal and economic costs to the state.

For some, the idea of discussing the economic impact of sexual harassment and violence appears unseemly. While sexual harassment and assault are very personal, in order to understand their impact, we need to look at them in the aggregate and in their environments.

Sandra Henriquez is the CEO of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a statewide organization committed to the eradication of sexual violence.

Sexual harassment is typically a one-on-one experience, but when viewed collectively, we see how a hostile work environment can end up excluding certain groups from entire industries. Historically—and sometimes to this day—women, people of color and those who are LGTBQ, among others, have been victims of this.

In collectivizing rapes and other acts of sexual violence, we can see their broader impact.

We chose to look at the economic costs because we—as family members, taxpayers and employers—actually pay for the costs of every rape that takes place.

Unlike punitive lawsuits, which occur after a traumatic incident, this report’s economic analysis should incentivize labor industries to take action to prevent destructive work environments, particularly those that embrace aspects of so-called rape culture, where sexual violence is pervasive andnormalized via popular culture and society.

Offenders like former film producer Harvey Weinstein create environments where employees are unfocused on work, have increased sick days, lower morale and can be eventually pushed out of industries. Actresses Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd have both publically disclosed intangible losses resulting from Weinstein’s actions (and from those who were aware of his behavior but did nothing to stop it).

If well-heeled, largely white entertainment and tech types are subject to the intangible costs and consequences of sexual harassment, consider what the costs are for low-income laborers who experience similar abuse.

Investigations have shown than California janitors and farmworkers, who are largely immigrant women of color, are routinely subjected to victimization at work. These low-wage jobs are high-risk employment for women, who often take them because they need to feed their families.

Janitorial workers now have new protections thanks to a state law approved by the legislature in 2016. The Property Service Workers Protection Act (AB 1978), increases protections against sexual violence for California’s janitors. The law was sponsored by the Service Employees International Union and supported by CALCASA and the Ya Basta! Coalition, a statewide group made up of janitorial workers, union representatives, advocates and legal organizations.

But sexual harassment and abuse disclosures are widespread and have also occurred at college campuses, military facilities, incarceration centers, government buildings and health-care facilities, among others.

The push to end gender-based harassment and violence have been re-energized by the Me Too and Times Up movement, as well as the Women’s March. These efforts underscore and highlight not only the pervasiveness of sexual violence, but also how common it has always been.

After an assault, we often try, by any means necessary, to return to “normal.” But this is never a return; instead, we develop a new normal. While we can be proud of our resilience, we often face reduced productivity and quality of life.

But why should a loss of work productivity, wages and quality of life be considered normative?

We need to de-normalize rape culture and invest in a respectful culture.

Sandra Henriquez is the CEO of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a statewide organization committed to the eradication of sexual violence.

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