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The High Cost of Abuse: The Intersection of Domestic Violence & Homelessness for Womxn

Imogen Greenwood


Background & Statistics


Homeless womxn are more likely to have experienced domestic violence than their housed counterparts, and are more likely to experience multiple forms of victimisation, including sexual assault, physical assault, theft, and harassment (Murray 2011). Further, domestic violence often serves as a precipitating factor for homelessness which, in turn, increases womxn's risk of experiencing domestic violence.


Indeed, one study conveys that, of 301 homeless womxn surveyed in Boston, 32% of the womxn reported experiencing sexual assault in the past year; 83% reported experiencing it at some point in their lifetime (Bassuk et al 1996). By contrast, in a 2010 study, 18.3% of housed womxn reported experiencing completed or attempted rape in their lifetime; 44.6% of these womxn reported experiencing some form of sexual violence other than rape in their lifetime, such as sexual contact or sexual coercion (Smith et al 2018).


Both sets of studies reveal abominably high statistics concerning gendered experiences of assault. Needless to say, in an ideal world, both sets of statistics would not exist and the respective studies would not have to have been conducted in the first place.


Structural Inequalities: Intersecting Domestic Violence & Class


However, since this ideal is not our societal lived reality, what they (as well as other replicable, reproducible studies) reveal cannot be ignored: domestic violence is deeply rooted in economic and social structures that perpetuate gender inequality and poverty; gender inequality, poverty and violence each act as mutual reinforcers (Fiske et al 2015 in Choup 2016).


Such is made crystal clear throughout a 1998 qualitative study, which encompassed interviews with 33 homeless womxn, participation-observation in several womxn's shelters and a review of 50 case files, chosen at random from one womxn's shelter. Throughout the literature, the impacts of domestic abuse are indomitably highlighted, with economic insecurity consistently shown as a key exacerbating factor. In many cases, the womxn reported having no financial resources or social support to leave abusive relationships or find stable housing. It also revealed the challenges faced in accessing social services and resources, which significantly prolonged unnecessary experiences of poverty and marginalisation (Williams 1998).


Impacts on Womxn, Homogeneously


Turning Lives Around is the lead partner in a Leeds city-wide initiative that supports homeless people experiencing multiple disadvantages. In the case studies of homeless womxn they publish on their website, the visceral intersection of domestic violence and homelessness for womxn is further exemplified. Half of the case studies of womxn they publish involve themes of abusive relationships and battery at home (Turning Lives Around 2023).


For Susan, she was subjected to domestic violence by her son while her husband was working away. Eventually, she turned to the organisation for assistance, by which point she was relying heavily on alcohol, likely as a self-soother. In Lucy's case, at the age of 17, she was sofa surfing, having been thrown out by her parents. This followed the breakdown of her abusive relationship and discovering that she was pregnant. Many of the friends whose houses Lucy was staying at were either violent or unstable themselves, contributing to the cycle of abuse for Lucy. Remarkably, Lucy has since won a Leeds City Council award for her resilience throughout all her experiences, made it onto a housing list and has given birth to a healthy baby boy (Ibid.).


Impacts on Further Marginalised Womxn


However, although womxn such as Susan and Lucy, thankfully, have been and can be assisted by organisations such as Turning Lives Around, it's important to note the additional challenges that other further marginalised groups face. For Black womxn particularly, they must overcome the vile, additional hurdle: the "presumption that their race predisposes them to engage in and enjoy violence" (Ammons 1995). The result of this historical disbelief of Black domestic violence victims manifests as healthcare neglect amongst minority ethnic individuals, underutilisation of public resources, increased prioritisation of White victims and forced silence (Ibid.).


The disparate respective treatment of Hedda Nussbaum and Frances McMillian illustrates this. In both cases, children were being subject to abuse as well as the battered lovers. However, following the perpetrators' trials, Nussbaum, the White battered lover, "was given the psychiatric and social services support she needed" (Ibid.); Frances, the Black battered lover, was not, despite trying "repeatedly to reach the psychiatrist who had been most directly involved in Hedda's treatment" (Blackman in Ammons 1995).


This is entirely emblematic of how existing policies and programs, that aim to address violence against womxn, tend to overlook the unique needs of homeless womxn (Murray 2011). This especially impacts womxn who experience more complex intersections of marginalisation, due to race, queer identity and disability.


Addressing the Issue


Policies and interventions aimed at addressing homelessness and domestic violence need to be integrated and responsive to the complex and interrelated needs of womxn who are experiencing both (Nunan 2009). However, in the case of those womxn who suffer more complex intersections of marginalisation, these facets of their identities must be integrated and considered in policy design, too. As one woman of colour said of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence: "They thought that they could simply incorporate us into their organization without rethinking any of their beliefs or priorities and that we would be happy" (Crenshaw 1991).


It is because of this inability of marginalised communities to rely completely on overarching political and legal systems that lead them to develop "adaptive beliefs, traditions and practices" in the context of domestic violence recovery (West 2005, 159). Critically, these adaptive techniques can sometimes serve to perpetuate the normalisation of domestic violence, with some corrupt clergy even misconstruing Biblical principles of "love, forgiveness and submission" to "reinforce sexism and subordination ... to justify abuse" (Ammons 1995).


Indubitably, this essentialises a survivor-centred approach to addressing homelessness and domestic violence, wherein the agency and resilience of the individual womxn in question can be recognised and empowered (Nunan 2009). Truly effective interventions must also address the root causes of both of these, considering any and all structural inequalities that exist (Olsen et al 2013).


When Intersections Are Considered


A shining example of the effectiveness of these strategies can be seen through the story of Mia Flynn. Mia was trapped in a highly abusive relationship with a much older man and suffering from addiction, when she was first referred to Carr Beck. Here, her support worker, Eileen, helped her to get sober through a Leeds Addiction Unit programme. She also enrolled in various support groups and spent her time volunteering with Together Women, which works to support womxn in the face of domestic violence (Turning Lives Around 2023).


It was through this work that Mia became inspired to undertake an Access course, enabling her to attend university. Since then, Mia has graduated from Durham University with a BA in Criminology and is currently studying for her Master's in Social Work. She now has her own home, car and dog. She also gives lived-experience talks to services and criminal justice organisations in Leeds (Ibid.).


Mia's recovery and current life successes are absolutely a product of the hard work and effort which she has put into rebuilding a life for herself. Emphatically, she attributes a great portion of her success to the assistance that she received, years ago, through Carr Beck. They gave her a place that was "safe and secure" and really tailored their recovery strategies to her specific needs. "They were understanding and just accepting of me, trying to help and reduce harm where they could ... Without the support of Carr Beck I can honestly say I wouldn't be where I am today," Mia says (Ibid.).


Concluding Thoughts


Mia clearly counts herself as lucky to be in the position that she's in in relation to her transition away from homelessness, her abusive situation and her addiction. Yet, luck should not be so much of a present element.


Housing must be seen as a fundamental right. Practices, such as those Mia experienced, must always be put in place to ensure that womxn who are experiencing domestic violence are able to access safe, affordable and secure housing (Nunan 2009). The goal should be for this level of support to be the norm for every womxn recovering from intersections of domestic violence and homelessness.


Awareness of the manifestations and realities of these respective issues and their interplay is the first step. Support for those experiencing further facets of marginalisation should be prioritised; not simply an afterthought. Wider education surrounding these issues, and advocacy especially, creates the pressure necessitated for governing bodies to make and facilitate these all-important changes.


Finally, if you happen to see sexual violence in action against any womxn or mxn - whether they are homeless or housed - please step in, if you feel it is safe for you to do so. Every womxn and mxn deserve to live their lives free from the fear of sexual violence and domestic abuse.






Signposting !


There are many resources available for those experiencing domestic violence and homelessness. Here are a few examples:


  1. National Domestic Violence Hotline - a 24/7 hotline providing crisis intervention, safety planning, and resources to those experiencing domestic violence. The hotline number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) and they also offer online chat services at https://www.thehotline.org/.

  2. National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) - a nonprofit organisation that provides resources and support to domestic violence service providers and advocates. Their website includes a directory of domestic violence service providers by state, as well as information on safety planning and other resources. Visit their website at https://nnedv.org/.

  3. National Alliance to End Homelessness - a nonprofit organisation dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness. Their website includes information on how to get involved in advocacy efforts, as well as resources for those experiencing homelessness. Visit their website at https://endhomelessness.org/.

  4. Women's Aid - a UK-based organisation providing support and services to women experiencing domestic violence. Their website includes a directory of local services, as well as information on safety planning and other resources. Visit their website at https://www.womensaid.org.uk/.

  5. Crisis Text Line - a free, 24/7 text-based support service for those in crisis. Text HOME to 741741 to be connected with a trained crisis counselor.

  6. Shelter - a UK-based organization providing support and services to those experiencing homelessness. Their website includes a directory of local services, as well as information on housing and other resources. Visit their website at https://england.shelter.org.uk/.

Leeds SASHA (Students Against Sexual Harassment and Assault) also signpost a number of fabulous resources for those experiencing domestic violence. All resources can be found in their Linktree:





References


  • Ammons, L. (1995). The Plight of Black Battered Women. Babies, Bath Water, Racial Imagery And Stereotypes: The African -American Woman And The Battered Woman Syndrome, 5, 1017-1030.

  • Bassuk, E. L., Buckner, J. C., Perloff, J. N., & Bassuk, S. S. (1996). Prevalence of mental health and substance use disorders among homeless and low-income housed mothers. American Journal of Psychiatry, 153(11), 1567-1572.

  • Choup, A. M. (2016). Beyond Domestic Violence Survivor Services: Refocusing on Inequality in the Fight against Gender-Based Violence in the Americas. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 35(4), 452–466.

  • Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1264-1275.

  • Murray, S. (2011). Violence Against Homeless Women: Safety and Social Policy. Australian Social Work, 64(3), 346-360.

  • Nunan, C. (2009). Women Domestic Violence and Homelessness. Parity, 22(10), 7-9.

  • Olsen, L., Rollins, C., & Billhardt, K. (2013, June). The Intersection of Domestic Violence and Homelessness. Housing: Safety, Stability, and Dignity for Survivors of Domestic Violence, 2-12.

  • Smith, S. G., Zhang, X., Basile, K. C., Merrick, M. T., Wang, J., Kresnow, M., & Chen, J. (2018, September 25). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief — Updated Release. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 5, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/2015data-brief508.pdf

  • Turning Lives Around. (2016). Turning Lives Around TLA Leeds | Case Studies. Turning Lives Around. Retrieved March 5, 2023, from http://www.turninglivesaround.co.uk/case-studies/

  • West, C. (2005). Domestic Violence in Ethnically and Racially Diverse Families: The "Political Gag Order" Has Been Lifted. In Domestic Violence at the Margins: Readings on Race, Class, Gender and Culture (pp. 157-173). Rutgers University Press.

  • Williams, J. C. (1998). Domestic Violence and Poverty: The Narratives of Homeless Women. Varieties of Women's Oral History, 19(2), 143-165.

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