Trauma And Victimization

Trauma can be defined as an “event outside the range of usual human experiences that would be markedly distressing to almost anyone and cause victimization.” This includes a serious threat to one’s life or physical integrity; a serious threat to harm one’sfamily members or friends; the sudden destruction of one’s home and community; or seeing another person seriously injured or killed in an accident or by physical violence.

Trauma can destroy the trust relationship of the victim with themselves and the world. This creates an inordinate amount of stress on the mental, emotional and physical capacities of the victim whose coping behaviours and belief structures have been shattered by trauma. The victim no longer knows how to act or what to expect from the world in order to survive. Their unique living conditions and life histories make people experiencing homelessness particularly vulnerable to traumatic events. This physical or psychological trauma may precede or follow the onset of homelessness.

Homelessness is associated with a variety of traumatic social problems, including family breakdown and abuse, adverse childhood experiences, foster care, youth pregnancy and inadequate parenting skills, and child development problems. Adults experiencing homelessness typically experienced sexual and physical abuse as children. For women, escape from domestic violence is a frequent cause for homelessness. While youth experiencing homelessness come from all classes, most come from families where physical abuse, exacerbated by long term unemployment and parental substance use is the norm. Effectively reducing child abuse may significantly reduce the number of those experiencing homelessness.  According to the 2016 Without a Home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey, released by the Canadian Observatory on homelessness, the following statistics are true about youth experiencing homelessness:

  • 63.1% said physical, sexual or other forms of abuse were a contributing factor for their experiencing homeless
  • 85.4% fall into the high symptom/high distress category regarding their mental health
  • 59.6% of youth who are street-involved report violent victimization

Trauma and victimization continues for a person that ends up experiencing homelessness. The most frequent violent trauma occurring among women experiencing homelessness is rape. The most common violent trauma among men experiencing homelessness is assault. Those experiencing homelessness with mental illnesses are more susceptible to trauma. They tend to wander in public places, display detachment and respond slowly to events due to their depression. Experiencing homelessness precipitates more traumatic experiences and the cycle is difficult to end.

Domestic violence/abuse statistics:

Numerous studies showthat people experiencing homelessness face high levels of violence and victimization; they are more often victims of crime than housed people. In research, many people experiencing homelessness, regardless of gender or age, have reported experiences of physical assault or aggression (sometimes by police), sexual assault, sexual harassment, and/or rape. Rough sleepers are especially vulnerable to being victimized. It has also been found that the younger an individual is when they leave home, the higher the likelihood that they will experience criminal victimization. Youth experiencing homelessness are six times more likely to be victimized, in comparison to the general population.

Moreover, most people experiencing homelessness that are victims of crime choose not to report it to the police for a number of reasons. They have been dissatisfied with the response of police in the past (ineffective or uninterested), they mistrust the police and are not in a good position to challenge mistreatment, or they fear retribution for “squealing.” Violations of street culture may result in retaliation from other people experiencing homelessness, drug dealers or pimps.

People experiencing homelessness also suffer from a lack of guardianship, increased exposure to criminals, and the inability to avoid dangerous areas. All of these factors increase an individual’s vulnerability to crimes that include assault, robbery, theft, vandalism and sexual assault. In turn, people experiencing homelessness adapt and survive by committing their own offenses such as carrying weapons or seeking their own retribution against criminals, as relations with law enforcement are typically strained.

Register for the Community Workspace on Homelessness to discuss Trauma and Victimization.