State says cost of sexual assault is $8 billion a year

Dean's shoes
"Dean," a sex offender who has gone through a counseling program, talks about his experiences trying to re-enter society.
MPR file photo/Sea Stachura

The Minnesota Health Department says 61,000 Minnesotans were sexually assaulted in 2005 -- that's nearly enough to fill the Metrodome. And some of them were abused more than once.

Mark Kinde, director of the Health Department's Injury and Violence Prevention Unit, says when all the costs associated with those victims were added up, it came to $8 billion. He says the figure includes everything from medical and mental health care to time lost at work.

"It also includes victim services and criminal justice costs, some costs related to treatment of sexually transmitted infections, some pregnancy costs, substance abuse, there's some costs association with sexual violence that ends up resulting in suicide," says Kinde.

By far, the largest portion of the spending on sexual violence was for pain and suffering, and loss quality of life for victims and their families. The state put that figure at $6 billion -- about three-quarters of the total.

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"I think it's useful in telling the general public that this is a very serious problem, and we need to talk about it and we need to do something about it."

"That's probably, admittedly, the softest part," says Kinde. "Economists differ, there's argument on this, and we know this coming in that that's a piece of our study that rightly should be held up, and examined and scrutinized."

Kinde says despite the scrutiny, the study should serve its purpose -- to generate a broad discussion among policymakers, the religious community, social services agencies and others about ways to prevent sexual violence.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who this week charged a University of Minnesota football player with sexual assault, called the $8 billion a "stunning figure," and said it's good to begin the public dialogue.

"I think it's useful in telling the general public that this is a very serious problem, and we need to talk about it and we need to do something about it," says Freeman.

Medical and mental health care costs associated with sexual violence were about $280 million.

State Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, chairs the Senate's Health and Human Services Committee. She hadn't read the Health Department's report, but said the release of information is timely for members of the Health Care Access Commission.

"We know how much it costs when we have sexual assault. The question is, are there credible ways to reduce the incidents and thereby reduce the costs?" Berglin said.

A health care task force will meet next week to try to figure out ways to prevent sexual abuse and contain health care costs.

Health Department officials say they hope this first study serves as a benchmark. They also say they hope it serves as a national model for other states to calculate their costs for sexual violence.