Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Homeless Women and Victimization: Abuse and Mental Health History among Homeless Rape Survivors

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Homeless Women and Victimization: Abuse and Mental Health History among Homeless Rape Survivors

Article excerpt

Using the database of a hospital-based sexual assault care centre, this study examined data about previous and current victimization from homeless women clients and compared them to data from housed women clients. More homeless women than housed women reported childhood physical abuse, childhood sexual abuse, adult physical assault, previous sexual assault in adulthood, and a history of mental health problems. Among homeless women, 78.5 percent reported at least one previous incident of victimization; 23.7 percent said they had experienced all four types of violence. Of the recent sexual assaults for which the women were treated at the centre, those against the homeless women were more violent, and were more often perpetrated outdoors, by a stranger. Ramifications for treatment and prevention of abuse and homelessness are discussed.

En partant de la base de donnees d'un centre hospitalier pour le traitment d'agression sexuelle, cette etude a compare les donnees touch ant a la victimisation d'un groupe de femmes sans abri a celles concernant un groupe de femmes logees. Un plus grand nombre de femmes sans abri que de femmes logees ont indique qu'elles avaient vecu l'abus sexuel et physiq ue en tant qu'enfants, et l'agression sexuelle et physique en tant qu'adultes, ainsi que des antecedents mentaux. Parmi les femmes sans abri, 78,5 pourcent ont indique qu'elles avaient vecu au moins un episode anterieur de violence; 23,7 pourcent d'entre elles ont dit qu'elles avaient vecu les quatre genres de violence. En ce qui concerne les agressions sexuelles recentes pour lesquelles les femmes ont ete trait& ea;es au centre, celles contre les femmes sans abri etaient plus violentes et un plus grand nombre d'entre elles ont ete commis par un etranger. L'artic le discute des solutions possibles, dont le traitement et la prevention de l'abus et du manque de logement.

Research studies have documented high rates of various forms of childhood and adult victimization as well as mental health problems among homeless women. While many of these studies document prevalence rates of abuse, few provide details of abuse characteristics and specific mental health problems. In order to address these limitations within the literature, this study examined recent and previous victimization experiences as well as mental health problems among homeless women and a comparison group of housed women attending a sexual assault treatment centre.

Numerous studies have documented the high rates of victimization among homeless women. In a study of homeless women in Toronto, Breton and Bunston (1992) found a 75 percent rate of lifetime physical and sexual abuse, most of which took place before the women became homeless. Another Toronto-based study of both homeless women and men (Ambrosio, Baker, Crowe, & Hardill, 1992) found that of 106 female participants, 46.2 percent, had been physically assaulted in the previous year and 43.3 percent had experienced sexual harassment and/or assault. An astonishing 21.2 percent of the women interviewed said that they had been raped at least once in the preceding year. Both studies found that the experience of multiple incidents and forms of abuse is the rule, rather than the exception, for homeless women (Ambrosio et al. 1992; Breton & Bunston, 1992). In their examination of sexual assaults, Breton and Bunston (1992) found that the majority of homeless women were assaulted by a known assailant, in a familiar place that was not public.

American researchers also document very high rates of abuse and assault among homeless women. Simons and Whitbeck (1991) found that 43 percent of women in their sample had been raped by a father or father-figure in childhood. Anderson, Boe, and Smith (1988) report that two-thirds of their sample of homeless women experienced physical abuse in childhood, adulthood, or both. Almost half had been sexually assaulted at least once in their lifetime.

Some subgroups of homeless women are at even greater risk for victimization. …

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