Why Survivor Lawsuits Will Shift the Astronomical Costs of Childhood Sexual Abuse from The Public Back Onto Those Responsible For The Abuse (Kenton Stanhope)


Why Survivor Lawsuits Will Shift the Astronomical Costs of Childhood Sexual Abuse from The Public Back Onto Those Responsible For The Abuse


The maltreatment of children, which necessarily includes childhood sexual abuse, is a pervasive problem throughout the United States, and California is no exception.  Each year, thousands of children in California are abused.  The negative physical, psychological, emotional, social, and psychosocial impact of abuse is certainly tragic on a personal and familial level, but the financial burden this abuse has on the public may be equally striking. According to a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the cost of child maltreatment exceeds $124 billion.  The newly proposed statute of limitations provided for in SB 924 would allow more survivors of childhood sexual abuse to pursue civil remedies, thereby shifting some of the economic responsibility for the consequences of this abuse off of the public and onto the parties responsible.

Direct Costs

  • Included in the direct societal costs of childhood sexual abuse are the following: childhood healthcare costs; adult medical costs; productivity losses; child welfare costs; criminal justice costs; and special education costs.  The CDC conservatively estimates the per-victim cost of these services at $210,012.  Where death (including death from suicide) or permanent disability is the result of the abuse, such costs increase to approximately $1,272,000 per victim.
  • “It is virtually impossible to calculate, on a national level, an accurate total of direct expenditures since so many costs are blended into other categories or are simply not tracked as abuse and neglect related expenses.  However, the government expenditures for child welfare programs do provide us with a benchmark for estimating the annual direct cost for abuse.  In 2010, federal expenditures to states for major child welfare programs exceeded 4.5 billion dollars.  That total excludes Medicaid dollars, which are an important source of funding for treatment.  It is also important to note here that federal funding accounts for only 42% of most state child welfare dollars.  The remaining 58% is the responsibility of the state and local government.”[1]

Indirect Costs

  • The indirect costs related to education, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, teen pregnancy, welfare dependency, domestic violence, homelessness, juvenile delinquency, adult criminality, and long-term unemployment are much harder to gauge, but have been estimated to be more than double the direct costs.[2]

Who Pays

  • Both male and female survivors of childhood sexual abuse are more than twice as likely as their non-abused peers to be unemployed and to fall below the federal poverty line as adults.[3]


  • As with income, adults who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse are approximately twice as likely as those who were not maltreated to use Medicaid as their sole source of health insurance.[4]


  • Childhood sexual abuse survivors’ increased likelihood for being unemployed results in greater reliance on state unemployment insurance and lost economic productivity.  The higher risk for falling below the poverty line further indicates lost income and sales tax revenue for the state, as well as increased reliance on welfare programs. Given the extraordinary number of adults that report being sexually abused as children, the added indirect costs to society of survivors’ impaired socioeconomic well-being – such as those listed above – could be estimated in the tens of billions of dollars annually for the State of California alone.

SB 924 Shifts These Costs Onto Those Responsible

  • By far the largest costs borne by the public are in the areas of medical care, psychological care, and the reduced earning capacity of childhood sex abuse survivors.  Their impaired socioeconomic well-being reduces the chance that they will receive adequate care for their mental and physical health problems, and this in turn acts to maintain or even increase their risk for continued socioeconomic difficulties – creating a dangerous cycle.
  • The new limitations periods proposed by SB 924 can act as a cost-shifting mechanism whereby more survivors of childhood sexual abuse are afforded a civil remedy.  By allowing compensation directly from those responsible we make it possible for survivors to privately fund the care and services necessary for long-term healing, costs which are currently borne predominantly by the public.
  • Notably, the civil remedy in these cases also allows for a lien recovery by Medicaid and other publicly funded health providers, thereby permitting cost-shifting for services already rendered to survivors.  Such lien recovery coupled with a longer limitations period means that public entities will recover costs expended on behalf of abuse victims that, without SB 924, have no chance of recoupment.

[1] Nelson, Daryl. “The High Cost of Abuse to Society – Prevention Pays.” http://www.njcap.org/the-high-cost-of-child-abuse-to-society-prevention-pays/

[2] Fromm, 2001, Prevent Child Abuse America.

[3] Zielinski, D.S. (2004).  Child Maltreatment and Adult Socioeconomic Status: Support for a Mediational Model.  Doctoral Dissertation. Cornell University, Ithica, NY.

[4] Walker, E.A., Unutzer, J., Rutter, C., Gelfand, A., Saunders, K., Vonkorff, M., Koss, M., & Keaton W. (1999) Costs of health care use by women HMO members with a history of child abuse and neglect.  Archives of General Psychiatry, 56, 609-613.