The intersection of sexual assault, homelessness and housing is multi-layered and complex. Sexual violence can jeopardize a person’s housing—and lack of safe housing and homelessness can increase the risk of sexual assault.
In a Housing and Sexual Violence report prepared by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) in 2010, advocates highlighted some of the troubling experiences survivors were facing.
For some victims, sexual assaults are directly tied to their housing and economic insecurity: One study found that 71 percent of victims wanted to move after being sexually assaulted by their landlords but could not afford to break a lease. “We worked with a woman who was sexually assaulted in her apartment complex,” one advocate shared with NSVRC. “She wanted to move but the property manager was unwilling to work with her.”
Another recounted working with two survivors who faced unsafe housing in the wake of their trauma: “A survivor was awarded subsidized housing and her place was robbed by a maintenance person. Another survivor was notified of a registered sex offender in her housing complex and was sexually assaulted.” A third advocate described having “worked with women who were assaulted as a form of ‘rent,’ and were forced to leave when they refused to continue with the assaults.”
Young adults who are homeless are often fleeing their home due to abuse, sexual assault or their family rejecting their sexual identity. LGBTQ populations and runaway youth face heightened housing risks and barriers—as do women, Native Americans, people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants and residents in rural areas. “We worked with a few teens this year,” one advocate told NSVRC, “who were assaulted by their mother’s new partner and were asked to leave due to reporting.”
Older adult survivors also face unique challenges in securing safe housing. “This population, like people with disabilities, may be more confined to their homes or reliant on people to help them with their care,” an advocate explained. “They too are more vulnerable NS accessible, and less credible. They may also have less options for moving.”
While 52 percent of all sexual assaults occur where victims live, experiencing sexual assault can lead to housing instability even if the attack did not occur in the victim’s home. Some victims may not feel safe or comfortable at home after being assaulted due to the impact of trauma.
Sexual assault survivors may need help finding new housing not because a perpetrator is a threat in their home, but because their home is triggering. Survivors may need a safe space to stay after an assault to process the impact of trauma, understand trauma responses, identify triggers and get support to deal with flashbacks and nightmares. They need advocates who can help them process what to do next and develop safety and healing plans.
As advocates working to end sexual violence learn more about the short- and long-term impacts of assault, the need for safe and accessible housing for survivors becomes clear—but the reality remains that advocates and researchers have only begun to scratch the surface of how housing and sexual assault intersect.
Living on the streets puts individuals at an increased risk of additional assaults. In one study regarding homeless and marginally housed individuals, 32 percent of women, 27 percent of men and 38 percent of transgender persons reported either physical or sexual assault within the past year. At the same time, many advocates and allied professionals find it challenging to engage with complex housing systems and provide effective advocacy at this intersection.
The critical conversation on sexual assault, homelessness and housing being held at the 2018 National Sexual Assault Conference is designed to deepen our understanding of the housing challenges and risks faced by diverse sexual assault survivors and deepen engagement in addressing these pressing housing challenges. Join the NSVRC, Sexual Assault Resource Sharing Project, National Organization of Sister of Color Ending Sexual Assault, National Alliance for Safe Housing and others as we join together to find real solutions.