In Haiti, evidence from confidential surveys suggests that domestic violence is a serious problem: it appears that around 273,200 women suffer from severe physical and/or sexual violence per year. This adds up to 9.4 percent of the population of 14- to 49-year-old women.
Domestic violence has considerable consequences. It not only causes pain and suffering for the victims but creates costs for society. Victims are more likely to commit suicide, have more unwanted pregnancies, are less likely to complete education, are less likely to seek employment, are more likely to have underweight babies, and are more likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases including HIV.
This stops victims from fulfilling their potential and makes them less likely to be employed. Thus, it has far reaching consequences for societal development.
In new research for the project Haiti Priorise, for which specialist economists look at different ways to respond to diverse developmental, environmental, and economic challenges in the country, Dr. Anke Hoeffler from the University of Oxford studies the costs and effects of investments to reduce domestic violence.
Dr. Hoeffler studies the costs and effects of re-building the women’s shelter in the West which was destroyed during theearthquake of 2010, and finds that this would be a very good investment.
Haiti has had shelters in four departments (North, Northeast, Southeast and West) to accommodate victims of violence. Forensic, psychosocial, legal and social services are provided at these shelters, which are all managed by women’s organizations, with the Ministry for the Status of Women and Women’s Rights (MCFDF) playing a coordinating role.
The MCFDF is currently trying to raise funds for the construction of a new shelter. Dr. Hoeffler estimates that the building costs and operating costs for 30 years would add up to 10.2 million gourdes. Her research suggests that each year the shelter will save one life, and the equivalent of 12 years lost due to injury and illness caused by domestic violence.
Using the cost-benefit approach of Haiti Priorise, Dr. Hoeffler puts this into economic terms, and finds that every gourde spent on the shelter would generate returns worth 14 gourdes.
She also looks at a longer-term approach: teaching teenagers about safe and healthy relationships. There is evidence from other countries that this decreases the incidence of sexual assault, increases knowledge of domestic violence, and reduces violence among teenagers.
The goal would be to reach 18,000 youths – about 8 percent of all 14-year olds. This means 157 teachers would need to be trained. Based on a pilot program, it is estimated that the costs would involve three days of training and five days of implementation. As well as delivery costs, there is the cost of the use of outside experts and production of the study materials.
It is expected that there would be an impact on teen domestic violence for four years. It is also assumed that after four years there will be some positive effects, such as reduced substance use, depression, and self-harm, which have been associated with teen dating violence prevention programs.
Unfortunately, the cost of paying teachers to teach this curriculum outside school hours in Haiti makes the delivery of this intervention very expensive. So in cost-benefit terms, every gourde spent on this initiative would generate benefits worth just one gourde.
Another approach could be to introduce a national helpline for victims of domestic violence. These are popular in some countries and, in some cases, phone calls increase dramatically in response to public campaigns. However, there is little evidence as to how well they work.
The costs of a helpline would be renting an office, operations costs and staffing. An information campaign would also be needed, to target women aged 15-49 and make them aware of the helpline. This would add up to 14.64 million gourdes.
Although there is scant data, Dr. Hoeffler is assumed that a helpline would avoid one per cent of deaths caused by domestic violence, as well as time lost to illness and injury caused by IPV. In economic terms, it is likely that every gourde spent would achieve benefits worth around 12 gourdes.
The effects of domestic violence are felt every day in Haiti, in lower economic productivity, unnecessary health costs, and misery. Tackling domestic violence should be a priority.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.