The Senate is currently working to pass its own version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA). As senators debate the new legislation, they must remember that at this very moment millions of Americans are living as victims of domestic violence – something the House failed to understand when it voted on its own version of the AHCA. The original House bill put the lives and health of many of our most vulnerable citizens at risk by categorizing medical help for domestic violence as a pre-existing condition – meaning that victims of abuse might not be able to get health insurance. This categorization of domestic violence demonstrates a blatant disregard for the lives of survivors and showcases a lack of understanding of the impact of domestic violence on the U.S. as a whole.
When the average person hears the term domestic violence, they likely think about physical abuse. However, it is vital that Congress and we as a society understand that intimate partner violence takes many forms and that its effects are far-reaching. Domestic violence is a truly devastating and pervasive public health crisis, and its costs—from the number of deaths to the financial losses for both individuals and businesses—are higher than most people realize.
In recent years, domestic violence has even surpassed war and terror in terms of American lives lost. Between 2001 and 2012, 11,766 U.S. women were killed by their partners—that’s more than the 6,488 troops that were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq and the 3,039 Americans that were killed in terrorist attacks in the same time period combined. Showcasing these statistics is in no way an attempt to minimize the devastation that these wars and terror attacks caused, but instead is meant to highlight the truly horrific and often-underestimated toll that domestic violence takes on human life. The recent San Bernardino shooting in which a man murdered his estranged wife at the school where she worked, inadvertently killing an eight-year-old student as well, is just the latest tragic example of the brutality of domestic violence.
In addition to the impact of abuse within a person’s home or around their family, domestic violence also has a huge effect on a victim’s professional life. People facing abuse often miss work due to injury or are less productive because of the stress they are enduring. Statistics from studies vary, but 23-42% of domestic violence victims report that their abuse affected their work performance. Even worse, 50% of abused, employed women have been harassed at work by their abusive partners, and 142 women were murdered in their workplace by former or current partners between 2003 and 2008.
The cost to the economy and individual businesses is also astoundingly high. The U.S. loses a full $1.8 billion per year in productivity due to intimate partner violence, and the cost of domestic violence each year to the world economy is a staggering $8 trillion. Furthermore, domestic violence is responsible for the loss of 8 million days of paid work, which is the equivalent of more than 32,000 full-time jobs. Because of the impact of domestic violence on individuals and the financial cost, businesses have a responsibility to put in place workplace policies that support employees who are victims and that help colleagues spot signs of abuse. Not only are such policies morally responsible, they also help to lessen the impact of domestic violence on a business’ bottom line.
As a society, we must understand that domestic violence can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. As soon as we limit our understanding of domestic violence to a man abusing a woman in a poor household, we not only misunderstand the problem, but we lose the ability to relate to victims, identify abuse, and provide assistance to those who need it most. A crucial first step in combating this public health crisis is for all of us to understand that whether you’re a single man, a businesswoman, a retiree, or a stay-at-home mom, you or someone you know could be experiencing domestic violence.
Despite all of the statistics showcasing the devastating impact of domestic violence, Congress continues to put victims at risk. In addition to labeling domestic violence as a pre-existing condition under the AHCA, funding for the Department of Justice’s Violence Against Women programs is currently at risk of being cut. The costs of domestic violence are already far too high and the loss of the DOJ funds combined with the AHCA’s new definition of domestic violence will undoubtedly lead to even greater suffering. The Senate must recognize the magnitude of this issue and ensure that its version of the AHCA does not cause further suffering for victims of domestic violence.