If you guessed war, you’d be wrong. Anke Hoeffler and James Fearon recently released a fascinating systematic review of the benefits of programs aimed at reducing different types of violence. There’s a brief summary at the CSAE blog, which was also the source of the graph below. To quote the introduction to the full report,
Our estimates suggest that the costs of violence are high; the welfare cost of collective, interpersonal violence, harsh child discipline, intimate partner violence and sexual abuse are equivalent to around 11 per cent of global GDP [annually]. The cost of homicides are much larger than the cost of civil conflict. However, violence perpetrated in the home appears to be the most prevalent form of violence. Domestic abuse of women and children should no longer be regarded as a private matter but a public health concern. … We argue for moving beyond a near-exclusive focus on civil war violence – concern with which has increased in the development community and is admirable and important – to recognizing that the costs of interpersonal violence are probably much larger but are almost wholly neglected in current development programming (pp. iii – iv).
So why do academics, policymakers and development actors tend to focus on the form of violence that’s actually least costly? There’s the obvious point that conflict and terrorism are very public events, while child abuse and intimate partner violence tend to occur in private and often go unreported. War is also perceived as being more likely to be deadly, which might be true, but fails to account for the fact that domestic violence is much more prevalent. And I think there’s also a strong component of structural misogyny at play here. Civil wars and terrorism are seen as serious topics, often analyzed and carried out by men, while domestic violence is described as a women’s issue – something only of importance to a lesser constituency. (Consider the fact that no one’s asking if the Yazidis somehow deserved ISIS’ violence towards them, while many people claim that female victims of domestic violence must have done something to provoke their abusers. Now think about how notions of “deserving violence” correlate with the importance we put on crafting good policy responses to violence.) This report is a really important corrective to our tendency to write off domestic violence, and I’m quite interested to see how policymakers and development practitioners will respond.