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Connecting the Dots Between Homelessness and Sexual Assault: A Survivor's Story

December 21st, 2020

By Dominique Morales, RISE Intern

Conversations regarding sexual and gender-based violence are ongoing in our current culture. Research by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center shows that 78.3% of homeless women have been subjected to some form of sexual violence. Now, this is an alarming statistic, but it is easy to feel disconnected from it when you aren't hearing any news of it in your own community. However, after listening to someone who has experienced it firsthand, You may realize that these issues lie closer to home than you may have thought. I spoke to a local woman who serves people experiencing homelessness about her own experiences in san luis obispo. I have chosen not to name her out of respect for her confidentiality

“Sexual violence out on the street... I mean, I mean, okay let’s see - there's two places in SLO you do not want to walk around,especially if you're a homeless single woman and that is the Bob Jones Trail at night”, said the local women.

And homeless women in slo constantly live in fear of being attacked and harassed, she says.

“Most of these women like I said because they're homeless they carry knives, you know mace and pepper spray.

I mean one of the girls that I know she carries pepper spray on her key chain 24/7”, the local women explains

I asked the local woman if she had shared similar experiences to the women she had described, and she said, “ Oh, of course. I've been raped twice. When I was a lot younger, but yeah...

I was in foster care and walking home from work and I’ve been raped twice walking home”.

And when instances like this do occur the local woman says you never hear about it saying, “When have you ever heard in the news about a homeless woman getting raped?”

And when an assault is reported, these women aren't met with the support they need.

“I think a lot - one of the biggest issues is that if a single woman gets raped down the street, nobody really cares. The cops will come do what they gotta do and that's about it,” she says.

“It's not like you're an upper class,you know or middle class even getting raped and they're like,

‘oh those take you to hospital… let’s do this let’s do that..’ you know what I mean? It’s more like well, we're going to brush it under the rug because they’re homeless.”

And the reason these attacks are often swept under the rug comes down to one single factor she says.

“Because they’re homeless.. because they have no family”, she explains. “They say the number one cause of homelessness is the kind of stuff in foster families. I mean, they - most people basically have nobody.”

This leaves these women with nowhere to go still living in danger.

“I’ll tell yeah from a homeless woman getting raped by a homeless predator… it’s bound to happen again and again and again, to the same person or too many or too many women.. because they don't have anywhere to go,” she says.

When it comes to finding a safe shelter as a homeless woman options are limited. Oftentimes, for a single woman without children, they are grouped in with homeless men. This means for many women, they don't feel safe staying in these shelters for the fear of being assaulted.

Additionally, many shelters act as temporary housing solutions, not offering survivors the time, resource or space they need to heal.

“I think that when a homeless woman gets raped and goes and asks for help, I think this should be a house they can go and feel safe and recover and you know…because I- in my humble opinion like seriously like, my humble opinion… like it takes an awful lot of humility to come out and be humble and be like, you know what I got raped last night… I didn’t go to the hospital because it’s traumatizing to them”, she says. “They need at least some time to recuperate and to talk to somebody and talk to police and talk to whoever they need to talk to.”

And beyond having a place to go, they need someone there to support them.

“I think that they need to have a buddy that they can call at any time and be like, ‘this is what happened’ or I had a night terror and you know say ‘hey, I'm really scared right now. Could you walk me to my camper? Could you walk me to my house or could you walk me to my trailer?’

You know, whenever. I really do, I believe even if she -if a woman is sexually assaulted at any given point and she has nowhere to go but back to our camp, I would think it would be appropriate for someone to walk her back to her camp,” she says.

And ultimately she says slo as a community is not doing enough.

“Homelessness, itself.. people just don't care. Our County doesn't care. I think the community needs to reach out a little bit more,” she says.

And she says it starts with shifting the conversation.

“I'm ashamed of people who can’t treat them with respect either, you know what I mean,” she says. “So, they have an addiction problem, they’re a junkie or whatever.They still deserve the respect because no one deserves to be raped.”

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RISE is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that provides crisis intervention and treatment services to survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence and their loved ones. All services are provided confidentially, at low or no cost, to anyone regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ability or citizenship status. All crisis services are available in Spanish and English.