Little is known about the lives of women who live on the streets in the U.S. Virgin Islands. What do we really know about their lived experiences with psychological, physical, and sexual violence?
Virtually everyone would agree that homeless individuals face many profound life challenges. Homeless women are over a hundred times more likely to be raped and fifty times more likely to be assaulted and robbed than sheltered women. There is a higher risk for adult physical and sexual abuse when a young girl is permanently scarred by childhood victimization.
Among homeless women, childhood abuse is significantly widespread. A recent study of homeless women living in shelters in the US found that 78 percent of the women said they were abused as a child; 55 percent reported having been sexually abused, 67 percent reported physical abuse, and 90 perent of these women said they were emotionally abused.
Do you know that …
Homeless women sleeping patterns are related to their risk of being victimized. Have you driven by a sleeping homeless woman in the middle of the day and thought how could she possibly be comfortable sleeping “like that?” She is sleeping “like that” because she feels safe, you are her guardian as you step over her while walking by or glancing at her while driving by. She is decreasing her chances of being victimized. She is wise. She knows that her chances are greater after dark of being raped or physically abused, so she stays awake at night to protect herself from harm.
Homeless women have a higher rate of experiencing violence in a year than any human being can expect in their entire lifetime. The life of the woman on the street is a complex relationship between sexual victimization and homelessness. She is less likely to report being sexually abused and when she does report being raped the crime often goes unsolved.
Homeless women with mental illness have a 97 percent chance of being a victim of physical and sexual violence.
We, women, have a responsibility to help our homeless sisters. They deserve to be loved by all their sisters. We have a responsibility as women to protect our girls from childhood abuse.
Contrary to the belief that humans are inherently compassionate and are helpful to those in distress, in the case of homelessness the opposite is true. Failure to help is a moral failure. If you don’t know how to begin to help, it is our responsibility as women to start by treating our sisters with empathy, dignity, and respect. Small acts of kindness make a difference in their lives.
Stephanie Emelia Barnes