No Safe Place: Sexual Assault in the Lives of Homeless Women

No Safe Place: Sexual Assault in the Lives of Homeless Women

Despite over two decades of media and public policy attention, homelessness remains an enormous social problem in the United States, due in large part to the continual closings of institutions for people with mental illness, persistent poverty, a shortage of affordable housing, changes in welfare and mental health policy, and economic trends that favor the wealthy (Burt, Aron, Lee, & Valente, 2001; Evans & Forsyth, 2004; Haber & Toro, 2004; Lee & Schreck; Wolch & Li, 1997). Although women without custodial children and mothers taking care of young children represent two of the most rapidly growing subgroups of this population (Burt, Aron, Douglas, Lee & Valente, 2001; National Coalition for the Homeless, 2001; Urban Institute, 2000; U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1990, 2000), their needs remain relatively unexplored and largely unmet. Furthermore, these women are particularly vulnerable to multiple forms of interpersonal victimization, including sexual and physical assault at the hands of strangers, acquaintances, pimps, sex traffickers, and intimate partners on the street, in shelters, or in precarious housing situations. All forms of victimization endured by homeless women and children deserve our immediate attention and action. In this paper, we summarize available research on sexual violence in particular -- that is, unwanted sexual activity that is forced, coerced or manipulated -- and we suggest ways of understanding and responding to the varied, critical needs of homeless survivors of such violence. We focus on adult women only, leaving for another paper the enormous problem of violence against runaway children and teenagers. Our goals are to consolidate knowledge about the damaging interplay between homelessness and sexual violence, and clarify what steps researchers, policy-makers, and service providers might take to intervene with victims and prevent future sexual assaults from occurring.

PUBLICATION DATE: 2006
LOCATION: USA

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