Homeless women need #metoo more than anyone
Ever since Harvey Weinstein was convicted of assaulting an unfathomable number of young Hollywood startlettes, the #metoo movement was lit into flames and what feels like every woman in the industry came forward to speak about their own encounters with men in power. While they each have had very real experiences that they have every right to share, it always made me wonder why it took a bunch of celebrities to ignite an interest in these issues that so many every day people experience regularly. Yes, there are some cases where I’m grateful Hollywood speaks on social issues, but other times I find myself being bitter that no one cared until a celebrity stepped forward to talk about it.
Sexual assault is probably the number one fear of every woman out there. When you have to take the train late at night or travel to an unknown destination by yourself, you worry that you’ll encounter this type of situation. But, for most of us, we return home to a safe bed and that fear vanishes. For homeless women in the United States, that fear never leaves.
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Reports show that 90% of women actually end up homeless because they’re running from an abuser. The Huffington Post reported in December 2017 that amongst the 600,000 homeless people in the United States, domestic violence has been the leading cause for homelessness in women. These statistics come from National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), who explain that this crippling number is typically a result of severe physical or sexual abuse, leaving no other option but to live on the streets for the woman who is trying to escape.
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Sadly, the assault usually does not end from that point on and is often a daily battle for these people. In September 2006, The National Online Resource Center for Violence Against Women (Vaw.net) published a paper sharing chilling statistics of just how frequently homeless women are attacked. It reports that in one study conducted by Suzanne Wenzel in 2000, 13% of women reported having been raped in the past twelve months, with half of them being raped at least twice. Another study shows that 9% of women have reported sexual victimization in the last month alone.
If those numbers aren’t enough to shake you, an article published by The Los Angeles Times in 2016 shares some of the horrifying stories women in Downtown LA have encountered. Although many like to criticize the homeless for not taking advantage of the (few) resources that are there for them, it’s these very resources that women actually find themselves endangered by. Tents along Skid’s row’s encampments are frequently tore open with knives by attackers and homeless shelters are far from shy of assault.
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Anne Miskey, chief executive officer of the Downtown Women’s Center, states in the article that most of these shelters are designed for men. These assaults also are not designated to the fellow homeless or random men on the street. In many cases, workers actually running the shelter are also accused of attacking.
“Clients told us they have to ask a male security guard for feminine hygiene products, and they have sexual trauma,” Miskey explained.
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For some, sex is even used as a survival tactic, a large pocket of women trading it for a place to sleep at night. Some even have consistent sex with one man to avoid being victimized by others. Lisa Goodman, professor and director of training in the department of counseling and developmental psychology at Boston College, told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette in 2015 that it’s “it’s hard to tackle sexual assault among women who are homeless” because the situations are far more complicated in certain circumstances. Although a woman may not necessarily want to have sex with someone, she’d rather trade it for a safe place to go at night then fear someone will rape her when she tries to sleep.
The article also reports that homeless trans-women are at particularly high risk of being preyed upon because some fetishize their body-parts. In many of these cases, trans-women are thrown out of their houses because their parents do not approve of them, such as the story shared by 19 year old Serfia Shay Firece, who is a transgender woman. She tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that she uses the hook-up app Grindr to find men to trade sex for a bed with.
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Heartbreakingly enough, there are thousands of stories just like these occurring across the country on a daily basis. While there are limited resources for homeless people as it is, there are even fewer for homeless women who have a much higher risk of assault then men. Some cities like Los Angeles are attempting to fund all-womens dorms and dedicate facilities specifically to women who are victims of domestic violence. Hopefully, other cities across the nation will follow suit to minimize these very real, very frequent yet completely unpublicized issues.
For more information on this cause and other ways to get involved, you can visit organizations like the Downtown Women’s Coalition, Women in Need and I Support the Girls.