It’s estimated that 7,880,000 people have experienced sexual abuse and violence in the UK.
This means 12% of us have been directly by this, making experiences of abuse and violence more common than having blue eyes, being left-handed or living in Scotland. These numbers can feel tough to wrap your head around and too big to comprehend.
Unfortunately, the situcation is much bleaker for people sleeping rough.
People we work with often report sexual and domestic abuse as a cause of their homelessness. We see this most with the women we support, the majority of whom were forced to leave home out of fear for their safety.
But once people leave their unsafe homes, their risk of facing abuse often increases.
Sexual abuse and violence while sleeping rough
People experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping are at a higher risk of sexual harassment and assault. It’s reported that 1 in 20 people facing homelessness will experience sexual assault but it’s likely this is underreported, making the true figure much more alarming.
While sleeping rough, people often lack stability and protection from harm, which can lead to further assaults. Additionally, some people are fearful of accessing support as their abusers may also seek support from the same services.
It’s easy to see how a vicious cycle might form.
To make matters more complicated, research into these issues is rare, despite how deeply it affects those we work with. That’s why, last year, we helped organise the first ever London Women’s Rough Sleeping Census.
This asked women directly about their experiences sleeping rough for the first time. It found that only 7% were accessing domestic/sexual violence support services despite the fact that 30% report facing violence.
Breaking the cycle
It’s clear all systems need to be working harder to prevent sexual abuse, in and out of the homelessness sector.
For our part, all our services are trauma-informed. This means we make sure each person we work with feels safe in our centre based on their unique support needs.
As part of this, we run a women’s morning every week.
This creates a safe environment for people who’ve had poor past experiences with mixed-gender support services. This has resulted in many more women coming to us for support – we’re currently seeing roughly 50 women regularly attend our women’s space.
We also have strong connections with local domestic abuse services and shelters where we can refer the people we work with if they feel this is best for their wellbeing.
But we know there’s more to be done.
Together, we can work a better system that prevents sexual violence against people sleeping rough and supports them on their terms when things go wrong.
The best way to be a part of this and stay up to date on how you can support this work is to sign up for our mailing list. Join us and be part of the conversation around homelessness.