The Intersections of Homelessness and Domestic and Sexual Violence


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This Presentation was created for and presented at the 2010 National Healthcare for the Homeless Conference in San Francisco, CA.

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The Intersections of Homelessness and Domestic and Sexual Violence

  1. 1. Presented by: Crystal Tenty, NatalieSchraner and Jill Winsor
  2. 2.  Risks survivors who are experiencing homelessness face in regard to DV/IPV and SA. How perpetrators target victims/survivors Barriers to accessing services Trauma Advocacy and safety planning
  3. 3.  While overall rates of victimization in this country are down, rates of victimization among homeless women remain relatively unchanged One study found 92% of homeless mothers had experienced severe physical &/or sexual violence at some point in their lives with 43% reporting sexual abuse in childhood and 63% reporting intimate partner violence in adulthood Stats from “No Safe Place: Sexual Assault in the Lives of Homeless Women” By Lisa Goodman, Katya Fels, and Catherine Glenn on
  4. 4. One study of homeless women discovered that those who reported a rape in the last year were significantly more likely than non- victims to suffer from 2 or more gynecological conditions & 2 or more serious physical health conditions within the last year and they were also more likely to report they needed to see a physician during the past year but were unable to do so (
  5. 5.  “Homeless” vs. “Battered women” categories. Some homeless-based services are not trauma- informed. Some DV/SA services are not set up to support women who have experienced chronic homelessness. Much of the emergency financial assistance that does exist for survivors are earmarked for DV survivors or shelter residents and not accessible for SA or AMAC survivors.
  6. 6.  Many reports only count the homeless who are sleeping on the street or staying in shelters We count people sleeping in their cars, couch surfing, staying with abusers to stay off the street
  7. 7.  Anyone can be a victim of sexual violence Crosses gender, race, class, age, sexual orientation, location
  8. 8.  “She let me pay for it last time, what’s the difference?” “She’ll lose her kids if she leaves my house, she can’t complain about what happens here.” “If I get her high she won’t even notice.”
  9. 9.  Everybody knows she’s crazy, no one will believe her.” “There’s a warrant out for her, she can’t go to the cops.” “She only knows my street name, she can’t rat on me.”
  10. 10.  Perpetrators select victims that they see as:  Vulnerable:disabled, socially isolated, drug affected, etc.  Accessible:sleeping on the streets, couch surfing, etc.  Lacking Credibility: criminal background, mental health
  11. 11.  All forms of societal oppression can be used by a perpetrator to facilitate violence  Immigration status, race, language When multiple forms of oppression intersect, people are at higher risk for sexual predation  Sexworkers may be seen as more accessible, vulnerable (participating in sex trade), lacking credibility (work may be criminalized, not supported by society)
  12. 12.  Homelessness does increase a person’s potential risk of being chosen by a perpetrator for victimization BUT!!! Sexual assault is always the result of a choice made by a perpetrator, not the situations a survivor is living through
  13. 13.  Using the VAL, evaluate the survivor’s Vulnerability, Accessibility, and Lack of Credibility What are the survivor’s strengths and skills?
  14. 14. Game board Activity
  15. 15.  An overwhelming, distressing or life threatening event (experience) An emotional and psychological injury (effect) Threatens safety and predictability of life Surreal quality
  16. 16. Single event -natural disaster -military duty -sexual assault -car accidentEffects of acute trauma -PTSD, GAD, MDD -disruption of Life -can regain sense of normalcy
  17. 17. Intrusion ArousalAvoidance/Constriction
  18. 18. Serial traumatization -refugee camps -on-going war -pattern of abuse (sexual, physical, neglect)Effects of chronic trauma -cumulative -can be permanently disabling -Disorders of Extreme Stress (NOS)
  19. 19. “…most studies indicate a considerable burden of cognitive dysfunction among homeless people.” Injury to the brain via accidents, abuse, chronic drug use, untreated illness TBI diagnosable by a doctor
  20. 20. Mary has lived on the streets of Old Town on-and-off for twelve years. She was sexuallyabused as a child and witnessed domesticviolence between her parents who hadalcoholism. Mary remembers cracking her headopen when her father pushed her down thestairs.
  21. 21. Mary often felt restless in school and struggled to pay attention; she was constantly in trouble and had failing grades. Mary dropped out of school and moved out of home at age 15. Mary self- medicated her Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety with alcohol and heroine. While engaging in survival sex last week she was sexually assaulted on the job.
  22. 22. Trauma responses are legitimate and often brave attempts to cope with or defend against further traumatization
  23. 23.  Alcohol and drug-use High-risk behaviors “Difficult” behaviors “Acquiescence” Reluctance to seektreatment or report
  24. 24. “The shelter kicked me out because I forgot the curfew”“I lost my SSI because I missed my appointment”“I feel trapped and nervous in the shelter”
  25. 25. “I won’t go to the hospital. They only think I’m a junkie”“I can’t see my DV caseworker because that neighborhood has too much relapse potential”“What’s one more rape. I mean it’s happened since I was 3”
  26. 26.  Build relationship Assess needs, refer and connect to other service providers Advocate for your clients primary needs See ‘problematic behaviors’ within a context
  27. 27.  Lacking access to personal items Traumatization within shelter system Coping skills and other behaviors may violate agency’s rules (Use of Drugs/alcohol, looking for sex work on shelter computer, etc) Power dynamics between provider/advocate and participant Feeling dehumanized by authority figures
  28. 28.  Re-evaluate your agency’s policies and procedures Meet them where they’re at-LITERALLY Outreach to homeless communities Connect with non-DV/SA specific agencies (A&D treatment, health clinics, drop-in centers, etc) –co-advocate when appropriate. Bring care packages with you to the hospital Client assistance $
  29. 29. Think outside the box- Emotional safety, physical safety, property security and mental and physical health and well-being Explore their built-in strengths/survival skills Drawing upon and validating Intuition Help identify safe locations in their neighborhood or locale Encourage clients to share their skills with one another and look out for one another. Offer educational classes on topics relevant to participants Explore ways they can keep their property secure
  30. 30.  Be comfortable talking about sex and sexual/reproductive organs Have some basic knowledge around safer sex practices Have safer sex supplies handy (condoms, lube, wet wipes, rubber gloves) Initiate discussion (when appropriate) with participants around negotiating safer sex with their clients DO NOT JUDGE, PATERNALIZE OR PATHOLOGIZEResource: “Tricks of the Trade” by Lynn Stern
  31. 31.  911 cell phones  Address (courthouse, CSC, Confidentiality PWCL) Program Portland Bad Date  Drop-in center Line Sheets locations and WomenStrength hours Self-Defense Training
  32. 32.  Outside/In  TPI New Avenues for  Clackamas Service Youth Center Central City  Rose City Resource Concern Guide JOIN SAFES
  33. 33. Questions?
  34. 34. DSM-IVHerman, JudithFeminist TherapyRoth “Complex Trauma”