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Sexual assault and our homelessness crisis

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and we want to put some statistics in the context of our homelessness crisis, as so many of our neighbors living outside are affected.

Although sexual violence is among the most underreported crimes, available statistics reveal that one of every five women, one in six men, and nearly half of all transgender people have experienced sexual assault in their lifetimes.

And for people without stable shelter, the data is even more alarming.

According to a recent study from Downtown Women’s Center focused on assault rates among women experiencing homelessness, 42% report that they have been sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, and 27% have experienced sexual assault in the last year.

What we can learn from the data is this:

  • There is a high correlation between people who have experienced sexual assault and those who now are experiencing homelessness. We also have learned from many advocates who have experienced homelessness about how sexual assault can lead to substance abuse, addiction, and physical and psychological trauma. Lastly, people who lack access to shelter are at higher risk of sexual violence than people who have stable homes.
  • The impact of trauma can be deep and long-lasting. Services that offer support are critical, whether counseling, yoga, or art healing. Within the framework of our homelessness crisis, this also is why solutions like supportive housing are so important, as they include programs designed to help survivors of trauma cope and heal.

Tragically, the way people view sexual violence and homelessness can be similar—the inference that the “other” person must have done something wrong to have been raped or to be living on the streets. Let us be absolutely, unequivocally clear: Just as no person wants to be raped, no person wants to experience homelessness. This mentality is as lazy as it is harmful.

That is why it’s important to look at any person experiencing homelessness as a person who deserves compassion and humanity, and as a person who does not deserve to live on the streets, because nobody deserves to live on the streets.

With the stay-at-home guidelines in effect, there is concern among advocates that people seeking to escape situations involving sexual assault may have no outlet or support. Although there isn’t a perfect solution, many organizations have set up hotlines and other services specifically for those affected and in quarantine.

Sexual assault is a problem that is directly related to our homelessness crisis and is a toxic part of our global culture that needs to be addressed through education and policy. It’s abundantly clear that we cannot end homelessness until we address the violence that affects so many of our neighbors and loved ones living outside.

More resources here:

National: (800-656-HOPE, ext. 4673)

Local: (213-626-3393) (877-943-5778)

How to show support:
If someone you know has been sexually assaulted
How friends and family can support healing