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More Homeless Women Experience Assault Than You Might Think

Sexual assault among homeless women is a problem that many underestimate or aren't aware of, but it's more common than you might think.

According to Experience of Violence in the Lives of Homeless Women: A Research Report, 78.3% of homeless women have been subjected to rape, physical assault, and/or stalking. Of the respondents who were victims, 55.9% had experienced rape, 72.2% had been subjected to physical assault, and 25.4% had endured stalking.

woman homeless and sleeping in car

Experiencing sexual assault while homeless often means lacking access to vital legal, medical, and mental health services, exacerbating the post-traumatic effects of such incidents. The profound impact of sexual assault on a woman's mental health cannot be overstated. These women urgently require support to navigate the severity of their experiences. Regardless of housing status, women require access to these essential resources. They need avenues to discuss and process these traumatic events.

An article from the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy states that many factors increase homeless women’s risk of sexual victimization, including substance abuse, childhood abuse, length of time spent homeless, engaging in economic survival strategies, location while homeless, mental illness, and physical limitations. Although childhood sexual abuse and intimate partner violence often precede, and may contribute to, women’s homelessness and risk of re-victimization, the condition of homelessness itself dramatically increases women’s risk of becoming the victim of sexual violence.

Homeless women experiencing serious mental illnesses are highly vulnerable to sexual violence. One study found that ninety-seven percent of the participants, all of whom were homeless and suffering from a mental illness, reported experiences of violent victimization at some point in their lives, with twenty-eight percent reporting at least one sexual or physical assault in the month proceeding the interview. These women face the burden of at least three forms of social stigma—against poor or homeless women, people with mental illnesses, and victims of sexual violence.

The article highlights the heightened risk of sexual violence faced by women experiencing homelessness. Beyond the condition of homelessness, factors like engaging in "risky behavior" such as sex work or substance abuse, along with mental illness, further amplify their vulnerability. Addressing this issue requires significant change. There's a pressing need for more effective prosecution of sexual violence against homeless women. This entails amending existing laws at the federal level to explicitly recognize homelessness as a vulnerability factor in sentencing guidelines for vulnerable victims.

Women require increased access to mental health support. Without such support, these statistics will continue to escalate, inflicting further harm and trauma on more women. When compounded with other mental health conditions, the trauma of sexual assault only exacerbates the decline of these women's mental states.

At the Virginia Women and Family Support Center, we provide trauma and mental health support to our residents. Almost all of the mothers that come to us have experienced trauma due to homelessness. Women don't deserve to feel the trauma that they faced and hold it in for the rest of their lives. They deserve to heal from all that they have gone through, to live their life free from any pain and hurt brought onto them forcefully from someone else.

To address this pressing issue, our center offers comprehensive programs tailored to the unique needs of homeless women and families. We provide safe and stable housing, individual and group therapy sessions, trauma recovery programs, access to education and job training opportunities, maternal health support, and much more. Through our holistic approach, we empower women to overcome their past traumas, rebuild their lives, and create a brighter future for themselves and their families.

As we continue our mission to support vulnerable mothers and families, we are committed to advocating for systemic change and addressing the root consequences of the sexual assault and mental health crisis impacting homeless women. It is imperative that we confront the pervasive issues of sexual assault awareness among homeless women to help provide equitable access to quality care for all mothers, regardless of socioeconomic status. Together, we can work towards a future where every woman receives the care and support she deserves, and no woman is left behind.

To support our mission, consider becoming a Cycle Breaker by donating just $10 a month. Your contribution will change the lives of women and their families by providing crucial services such as housing, mental health support, education, maternal health support, trauma recovery, and more.

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