“My ex was released from jail last week and he knows I’m here!”
I remember the fear I felt sitting across from a young woman telling me that the man who had forced her into sex work and trafficking and had sexually and physically assaulted her many times had just been released from custody and would likely search for her.
That fear turned to anger when I discovered that she hadn’t been notified about his release, even though it was a serious crisis moment and notification would’ve been an important crime prevention measure. There are several victim-focused services that might have been able to help her and reduce risk of further assaults. Maybe this case was only different because this young woman was homeless.
According to the latest national survey on youth homelessness, homeless and street-involved youth are almost six times more likely to face violent victimization than the general population. Female youth, transgender and gender non-binary youth, and LGBTQ2S youth report the highest levels of sexual violence. Even the fact that more young men are homeless and in contact with the system in Canada could be telling – more young women may stay in dangerous living situations because the streets are so risky for them in particular.
So why do we disregard the realities of sexual violence for youth experiencing homelessness? It’s hard to believe that plans and policies such as Ontario’s Action Plan on Sexual Violence and Harassment don’t include dedicated resources and direction to reduce sexual violence faced by homeless youth and address the precarious housing of survivors of sexual violence. These gaps only re-victimize youth like this young woman, who, even though she fled her assailant, doesn’t feel much safer being away from him.
What she knows is that she always had a home with her assailant. Fleeing him made her homeless and left her in a state of flux between shelter and safety. Youth like her face huge wait lists and policy barriers to access secure housing. It may take years for her, time that will likely only further entrench her in homelessness.
Shelters are no stranger to sexual violence and the repercussions sexual violence carries with it, but so little is being done to reduce risks of sexual violence within the homeless population. As frontline workers, we can’t solve this huge social problem on our own but we can do our part to support people day-to-day and reduce the risks and effects of sexual violence.
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