A new report suggests a simple way to reduce domestic violence: provide victims with pro bono legal assistance.
The Institute for Policy Integrity, a nonpartisan think tank at the New York University School of Law, cites in its new report a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing that one in four women over the age of 18 will experience physical violence at least once in their lifetime. These women trapped in violent relationships miss work, and rack up exorbitant hospital bills they can’t pay off. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that women lose eight million days of paid work every year as the result of domestic violence — the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs. Including all of the other costs of domestic violence in addition to missed work, domestic violence costs the U.S. a jaw-dropping $9.05 billion each year.
Unfortunately, many low-income women are unable to do anything about their situations. Lawyers are expensive. Since they can’t afford legal help, many domestic violence victims have a hard time getting protective orders, leaving their abusive partners, and escaping the cycle of violence. Worst of all, they’re even more likely to become victims of domestic violence. The report cites statistics from the Department of Justice that shows women in the lowest-income households experience abuse seven times as much as women in the highest-income households suffer.
By providing low-income victims with free legal representation, the U.S. would save medical and mental health care costs, as well as criminal justice system costs. Free legal representation would also provide the tangible and intangible benefits associated with lessening children’s exposure to violence, the report argues.
“Not only are there rights- and moral-based reasons for support for domestic violence survivors, there are many economic reasons too,” said co-author Denise Grab, a senior attorney at the Institute for Policy Integrity. “When we invest in education or infrastructure, no one sees a problem because the benefits of doing so clearly justify the cost. This may be the case for when we invest in services to support domestic violence survivors as well.”
In other words, there is no moral or economic reason for the U.S. not to provide low-income women with free legal help, a policy that could literally save lives.