The Cost of Domestic Violence

Dorie Turner, Staff Writer

Members of the Tennessee Economic Council on Women said they want to put a price tag on domestic and family violence, starting in Chattanooga.

Nationwide estimates are that domestic violence costs businesses $3 [to] $30 billion each year, said Jeff Olingy, executive vice president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Olingy said the range is broad because few studies have been done on exact costs.

"This is a business issue for the business community," Mr. Olingy said. "We can’t afford to have anyone in the workplace environment who’s not concentrating on the business at hand."

Mr. Olingy said employers lose money because victims of domestic violence miss work more, are less productive and cost more in health care.

The council, a state agency that is an advocacy group on issues affecting Tennessee women, held a public hearing Friday to talk about the effects of domestic violence on Chattanooga. Representatives from area businesses, government and social services met with council members at the Development

Resource Center on Market Street. About a dozen people spoke to the council, but all said he or she was surprised how little data are available about the economic costs of domestic violence.

Council members hope the Chattanooga project will become a national model.

"We think businesses and people will pay more attention to this issue if it’s affecting the bottom line," Barbara Devaney, council executive director, said after the hearing Friday. "What we learned today is there is not enough data available."

Council member Carol Berz, who owns Private Dispute Resolution Services in Chattanooga, said the lack of data on the economic costs of domestic violence is why the council wants to do this project. The data gathering will begin in January, and the council hopes to conduct similar projects in other Tennessee cities, she said.

"We’re thinking Chattanooga and Tennessee is going to be a pilot project for the nation," said Dr. Berz, whose idea it was to hold a public hearing.

Ron Harr, a senior vice president for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said what actually is spent on health care for domestic violence victims and what state records show are millions of dollars apart.

According to Tennessee health care records, just a few thousand dollars are spent on injuries related to domestic violence each year, he said. What $32 million annually, he said.

"There’s a huge disconnect between reality and what’s being reported," Mr. Harr said.

John Lee, Hamilton County assistant district attorney general, said taxpayers are the ones who foot the bill for domestic violence because of the involvement of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. It cost $5 million to arrest, prosecute and imprison the 10 people who committed domestic violence homicides in Hamilton County last year, he said.

That number doesn’t include the millions spent on domestic violence situations that don’t lead to homicide, he said. It also doesn’t include the millions spent in the juvenile justice system on children who have witnessed or been victims of domestic violence, he said.

Jackie Jolley, regional director of the state Department of Children’s $25,000 and $44,000 a month on a child taken from a home because of domestic violence. Children who witness violence in the home are far more likely to commit crimes or abuse a partner when they become adults, she said.

Mr. Olingy said domestic violence is much more than a family matter.

The safety of other employees can be threatened if the abuser comes to the victim’s workplace, he said. About 94 percent of corporate security officers rank domestic violence as a high security risk at their company, he said.

Charlotte Boatwright, executive director of the Coalition Against Domestic and Community Violence of Greater Chattanooga, said the study will allow communities to examine ways to prevent domestic violence rather than deal with it after it begins. The coalition is helping the Economic Council on Women gather local data.

"We can find out how much money we’re spending, and then look at outcomes," she said. "What are we getting for our money?"