Violence against Tennessee's women costs $886 million last year

The toll that domestic violence, sex crimes and sex trafficking takes on Tennessee’s women is measured in bruises and broken bones, rape kits and funerals.

Now it can be measured in dollars.

A new study by the Tennessee Economic Council on Women says the cost of violence against Tennessee’s women in 2012 was at least $886,171,950.

That includes the cost of investigating and charging perpetrators. It includes the cost of jail and medical and mental health treatment for victims. It also includes work hours women lose when they can no longer hold down a steady job.

The study’s authors say that price tag probably is an underestimate, with the real cost exceeding $1 billion a year — much of it borne by taxpayers. It doesn’t include the cost of making sure children exposed to violence are saf e, which the study f ound to be incalculable.

“We by no means are trying to put a price on human life. That is not the case. But what we are trying to do is to put a price on the services that are offered because of these crimes,” said Phyllis Qualls-Brooks, executive directorof thecouncil.“Weallarepayinginonewayoranother.If youthinkyouarenotaffectedorimpacted by this, when you see these figures, you will know that you are.”

The study is the first of its kind in Tennessee to calculate the economic wreckage caused by domestic violence, sex crimes and sex trafficking.

It comes as Tennessee struggles with the distinction of having one of the highest rates of women murdered by men in the nation. Gov. Bill Haslam, in response, has made domestic violence one of his main public safety priorities and has signed laws that require stricter punishments for repeat domestic offenders. The state’s laws on sex trafficking were recently recognized as being the strongest in the nation by Shared Hope International, a group dedicated to fighting the phenomenon.

“That is big time for us,” said Margie Quin, assistant special agent in charge with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the state’s top expert on sex trafficking.

Action is the goal

Qualls-Brooks said the council’s hope is not just to induce sticker shock in Tennesseans. She said the real goal is to spur action.

Quin and others who participated in the council’s study will host a forum today at Lipscomb University on human sex trafficking in Tennessee, sponsored by The Women’s Forum.

Estie Harris, a Women’s Forum board member and co-chair of the event, said Tennesseans are getting the message that sex trafficking is not just something that happens in developing countries.Now, she said, it’s time to get to the root causes and spring into action.

“It’s out there and people are becoming aware of it,” she said. “We don’t want people to just wring their hands and say, ‘How terrible!’ We want to equip them with tools.”

Astatewide study in 2011 documented more than 100 incidents of sex trafficking in all of Tennessee’s metropolitan areas, although some authorities have questioned the count and state officials are searching for a new way to conf irm and document cases.

Quin said people are reporting sex trafficking more and more in Tennessee.She couldn’t say whether the growing number of cases means trafficking is happening more often or people are better able to recognize it. But one thing is clear: Sex trafficking and domestic and sexual violence are known to be widely under-reported. And probably far costlier than the council was able to calculate.

“It is easily a billion-dollar issue,” Quin said. “Historically, domestic violence and crimes against women are under-reported. You start to think, at what percentage are they under-reported? How much does this really cost?”