The cost of child abuse to Australia has been revealed, and it's staggering.

A new report says the widespread effects of child abuse are costing Australia $9 billion a year.

Lobby group Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) commissioned Pegasus Economics to work out the financial cost of trauma associated with abuse to the economy.

Researcher Nick Hossack used data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics to arrive at the figure.

It is based on the fact that almost 4 million Australian adults were abused as children and they are now grappling with major psychological trauma as a result, triggering attempted suicides, mental illnesses, depression and obesity.

“There’s unresolved trauma in our society,” Mr Hossack said.

Almost 4 million Australian adults are suffering major psychological trauma due to past childhood abuse.

“If we can get on top of this there are real – not only benefits to the individual and they are very significant benefits to the individual – but also benefits to the wider community and the government budget.”

Those benefits to the budget have been presented in a 66-page report – a report ASCA is urging the Federal Government to read.

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The group’s director Dr Cathy Kezelman, herself a survivor of abuse, said the Government needs to know how much money it is losing by not tackling the issue properly.

“It’s really about the cost of inaction for adult survivors,” she said.

“The economic cost of obesity, alcohol abuse, mental health issues, suicide and attempted suicide are incredibly substantial and if we nip them in the bud before they escalate we can really induce cost savings.”

‘Improving support would help the economy’

Dr Kezelman said there is every reason for the Prime Minister Tony Abbott to listen.

“We are in a situation where we have a major structural budget deficit so this is in response to Tony Abbott’s call for policy around saving the projected exponentially expanding health forecast,” she said.

The report makes a range of recommendations including training GPs so they know how to identify people who have been abused.

“The GP role is critical – they see many survivors every day and if trauma is not on their radar they won’t think about it,” Dr Kezelman said.

“They won’t identify the many medical and mental health problems survivors present with, along with the relationship challenges they face, and therefore they won’t know how to support them properly.”

Many survivors struggle to hold down a job, which leads to homelessness or a lifetime of welfare dependency.

Victims of child abuse often find it difficult to find stable jobs.

“The homeless services, alcohol and drug services… survivors cover the majority of our social ills but I suppose the bottom line issue is that there hasn’t been an investment in those areas that is proportionate to the cost to individuals and the cost to our country,” Dr Kezelman said.

She said investing in services for abuse survivors has countless benefits.


“It’s also so that we can improve the health of our next generation because we know that when adult survivors have worked through their issues their children do a lot better,” she said.

Dr Kezelman said she was not surprised by the results of the research.

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“For people working in the area, who understand the devastating repercussions of abuse, to hear that the associated trauma is costing Australia $9 billion a year is not that shocking,” Dr Kezelman said.

“What’s shocking is that we don’t have the services to make a difference.”

It never leaves you: abuse victim

Abuse survivors have welcomed the report, including a woman who asked only to be named as Barbara.

Barbara was repeatedly raped and beaten in several Queensland homes including one run by the Salvation Army, and another by the Uniting Church.

Child abuse survivor Barbara was awarded compensation but says she has spent thousands of dollars on counselling. Image via ABC.

“It never leaves you, you never forget,” she said of her horrific childhood.

“I can’t sleep without the light on, I am constantly angry, I don’t want to be around people.”

Barbara has received some financial compensation, but she said it is nothing considering the years she had spent in counselling sessions trying to get “into a good place”.

“The Queensland Government gave me $21,000,” she said.

“That’s an insult as far as I’m concerned – $21,000 for 16 years of abuse?”

ASCA said it will work hard to arrange meetings with the Federal Government to discuss the report and consider its recommendations.

This story first appeared on the ABC and was republished here with full permission.