More than a third of homeless people have been sexually assaulted

Interviews with 100 homeless people provide harrowing insights into perilous lives

A homeless person on Kildare Street, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

A homeless person on Kildare Street, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

More than a third of homeless people have been sexually assaulted and more than half sexually harassed, a landmark report published on Monday indicates.

The report, Empowerment to Rights, draws on detailed interviews with 100 homeless adults in Dublin, conducted between September and October 2020.

Some 40 per cent said they had experienced sexual assault and most would not report it as it would make their situation “worse”. LGBTQ homeless respondents particularly reported sexual assault and harassment.

Asked if they felt “safe” in homelessness, 98 per cent did not, with many saying they were “constantly on edge”, while 87 per cent said their mental health had deteriorated in homelessness.

One woman who was raped said: “I did report this but it went nowhere. It happened again and I did not report it.” A gay man who was raped said: “The guy said he was not gay. He just wanted to teach me a lesson.”

The interviews were conducted by researchers from the charity Inner City Helping Homeless and counselling service Be Aware, Be Safe.*

Interviewees detailed their experiences of homelessness and services, providing harrowing insights into the relentless, lonely and dangerous realities for many.

More than half (56 per cent) were “sleeping rough”, a category that represents a small minority of the overall Dublin homeless population. Some 36 per cent were in emergency accommodation and 6 per cent were “couch-surfing”.

Nationalities

Some 48 per cent were male, 33 per cent female and 19 per cent identified as other. The majority, 80 per cent, were Irish, followed by 11 per cent Polish, with Latvian, Bulgarian, Lithuanian and American among other nationalities.

Asked if they had been bullied or intimidated, 88 per cent replied that they had. “It is part of being homeless. You get it from staff and your peers. You just have to look after yourself and keep safe,” said one.

In all, 88 per cent had been the victims of crime; 82 per cent had experienced theft with violence, 83 per cent had experienced violence, 40 per cent domestic violence and 57 per cent sexual harassment. Many would not report these crimes to gardaí.

“You report nothing and you stay quiet. Snitches get stitches,” said one.

Some 94 per cent said being homeless damaged relationships. “I have one good friend left,” said one. “You don’t have friends, just people that you have to exist with,” said another. “My friends don’t want to know me; I am homeless and a drunk. That is all they see now.”

‘No hope’

Asked the worst things about being homeless, answers were similar. “It is never-ending”; “Not knowing how to come out of homelessness”; “Shame, no hope”; “Being alone”; and, “You never get a day off from being homeless. You are always moving and everything is hard and difficult”, were among the responses.

Asked if they felt motivated, 53 per cent said “no”; 41 per cent said “sometimes” and 6 per cent said “often”. Just 9 per cent were “often” optimistic about their future, 35 per cent were “sometimes” and 56 per cent said “never”.

The findings underline the “urgent need for comprehensive wrap-around support services” says the report. “Much greater transparency is needed on how funds within homeless services are currently being spent, to ensure a joined-up approach between all service providers ... to deliver maximum success.”

Support for victims of sexual violence is available from Dublin Rape Crisis Centre’s 24-hour helpline, 1800-778888; Men’s Aid Ireland national confidential helpline, 01-5543811; and An Garda, 999/112.

*This article was amended on April 20th, 2021