Due to recent news stories, sexual violence, assault and abuse has been on our minds.
CW: Mentions of rape and sexual violence
Unfortunately, some people have inflicted life-altering harm on others with little consequence for quite some time. The systems put in place to protect us aren’t always effective and this can lead to horrifying situations.
Data from Rape Crisis
As the above shows, sexual violence isn’t just topical for many of us; it’s something we think about daily.
Sexual violence and homelessness
People experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping are at a higher risk of sexual harassment and assault. This means 7% of all people facing homelessness will experience sexual assault at some point in their journey out of homelessness.
For women sleeping rough, the numbers are much more daunting:
Data from VAWnet.org
Sexual violence often occurs before and during periods of rough sleeping. For many, it’s a trigger to leave an unsafe environment for the streets when no alternative is available. While sleeping rough, people often lack stability and protection from harm, which can lead to further assaults.
Sometimes 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.
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.
There’s a disconnect here.
We may not have a full picture of the abuse faced by people sleeping rough but there are strong signs that something has to change.
We are currently taking part in the second London Women’s Rough Sleeping Census (as of September 2023). We’ll be sharing our findings soon.
The people affected…
It’s easy to get lost in numbers but these represent real people and their stories.
This includes people like Lorraine.
Lorraine slept rough for years before leaving the streets.
She was able to move into her partner’s flat but when the relationship became abusive, she needed to move quickly and turned to The Connection for support.
“I ran straight into Sinead, who was a worker I knew from 25 years ago, and she became my key worker again and helped me… I explained to her – my violent partner is going to get out of prison, I’m still at his house… within weeks she had me somewhere to live.”
Lorraine’s story has a happy ending but we can’t let people like her fall in between the cracks.
A lot of change may be needed but we can chip away at the problems together and, in the meantime, be there for people who need us.
What we’re doing to make a difference
All our services are trauma-informed. This means we make sure each person we work with feels safe in our centre based on their support needs.
As part of this, we run a women’s morning every week as some of the people we work with feel fearful of male clients due to poor past experiences.
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.