Research indicates the cost of a rape in the US averages $151,423 per victim. That’s if it’s reported and investigated. There may be other financial costs to victims whether they report or not, such as lost wages, medical expenses, and tuition loss if unable to continue with school.
While the mental and emotional trauma of sexual assault often follows a victim through life, affecting future relationships, emotional and psychological costs can be compounded by many other factors. For example, they are increased when the response to a victim’s sexual assault report is mishandled and the victim is questioned in a way that blames the victim. Also, victims often endure continuing stress and trauma when having to share the campus with the person who assaulted them.
The steepest cost is when the trauma of sexual assault is so difficult that the victim commits suicide. This is what St. Mary’s College student Lizzy Seeberg did after reporting her sexual assault by a Notre Dame football player. Her complaint was not investigated properly by administrators who disbelieved her.
Colleges and universities are paying because of their tendencies to sweep sexual assault under the rug rather than deal with complaints appropriately and implement effective prevention programs. As news of sexual assaults has increased, concerned alumni have withheld donations, and some schools are receiving fewer applications.
Social entrepreneur Elizabeth Amini withheld a 7-figure donation to her alma mater, Occidental College, in response to sexual assault complaints there. She then went even further by organizing other top donors to withhold donations and collected signatures on a petition demanding change. This alumni response is happening elsewhere too among donors.
Dartmouth College experienced a 14% drop in applicants following student protests against the administration’s handling of sexual violence and harassment and incidents of Greek hazing. The University of Virginia saw its first decrease in applicants in 12 years following the discredited Rolling Stone article about rape on its campus.
Millions of dollars are being diverted from education budgets to pay for lawsuit defense and to pay settlements resulting from how sexual assaults are handled. Suits are becoming so common that United Educators, a higher education insurance company, began offering insurance to cover sexual assault payouts.
If the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA) being proposed in the US Senate becomes law, schools would be fined up to $150,000 for failure to submit detailed sexual violence reports. Noncompliance with CASA could cost a school up to 1% of its operating budget.
All of these costs are exorbitant and impossible to calculate. It is likely that college and university administrators who conduct cost-benefit analysis will see that creating and implementing programs to stop campus sexual assault is not only the moral response, but also makes the most financial sense.