Life on the streets is ROUGH: Where to sleep without being harassed; how to keep oneself and one’s valuables safe and dry; how to stay warm. Where is the nearest public restroom? One does not wish to get a loitering ticket, or even worse, a public urination charge, which is actually a Criminal Sexual Conduct charge. Life on the street is more difficult for women. Safety and security are always at odds with being “out there” among the rest of society at large.
Life on the street can be dangerous, even in our community. There is theft, often among our own (homeless), if you can imagine stealing from another who has so little. There is violence. This often accompanies theft. Violence against our brothers and sisters. There is sexual assault. Rape. Unfortunately, this is almost commonplace among our alleged brothers and our sisters. The incidents of sexual assault rise incrementally with the use of alcohol (or other drugs).
Women who are homeless are less visible than the men. I hesitate to mention acts of violence because the community already has a poor image of “us.” Yet because this has been so unmentionable, it has become one more reason such violence continues.
(Don’t worry; it doesn’t happen in your backyard or driveway.)
It happens under bridges and in wooded areas. It happens in the dark. It happens when couchsurfing or in tents. But it happens. It happens often when we are asleep, unconscious, in a blackout, or too impaired or outnumbered to fight back. I feel compelled to mention it, because it does happen and is even less reported than sexual assault among the non-homeless in the community.
“Why?” you may ask. Many are the reasons. Often alcohol is involved. An unspoken code is if you drink with the guys, sexual assault may sadly be a part of the price of hanging with the guys. If you are couchsurfing, it may be the undiscussed rent. In a tent near others, presumably for safety, one cannot lock oneself in. We discover this only by experience. I have tried to warn “newbies,” generally to no avail. We think we are among friends; protectors. We have even less credibility than the average citizen within the community with local law enforcement. Who is going to do anything? What will be the consequences of reporting? It is a fact that we must continue to walk these same streets among our perpetrators. There is fear of retribution. Making a “report” does not get the offenders off the street immediately, if ever.
I know many women in the homeless community who have been sexually assaulted by our own. I am among these ranks. If we talk about this at all, it is among each other – those who understand and those who comprehend the “whys” of not reporting versus “judging” of the silence.
I guess this is my attempt to speak up about this form of violence. Not much can be done about it. Awareness, maybe. Some might say this is fatalistic, but it’s simply the reality as I have always seen it. It is unlikely that these incidents will begin to be reported. It’s unlikely others will notice and intervene. As homeless, we are often viewed as non-members of society. There is no justice for us.
Many do care, but most do not. “Not in our neighborhood.” “Not on our streets.” “Not in our city.” And so, under the bridges and into the woods we go where there is no safety, no security, and no witnesses.
Illustrations by Haley McCord.