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For Every Three Homeless Women, Two Will Be Abused

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"For Every Three Homeless Women, Two Will Be Abused"

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A woman huddles on a street corner in San Francisco

A woman huddles on a street corner in San Francisco

CREDIT: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

You won’t see any social media campaigns on their behalf. No salacious trials, nor grassroots movements to change unjust policies.

But their assaults are no less real, their abuse no less painful, simply because they’re homeless.

According to researchers from the University of California San Francisco, nearly two of every three homeless women in San Francisco have been abused.

The study, which surveyed 291 of the nearly 2,000 homeless women living in San Francisco over a six-month period, found the approximately two-thirds had been emotionally abused during that time period. One third suffered physical violence and another third were victims of sexual assault. Many women were subjected to two, if not three, forms of abuse.

If there were a way to find a downside, even in these awful findings, it’s this: the more mentally ill the woman, the more likely she is to be abused. Martha Shumway, the study’s lead author, was surprised by this finding. “My assumptions going into this were that it wouldn’t make a difference — more is not going to matter,” Shumway told the San Francisco Examiner. “[But] each additional mental illness is more prediction of violence.”

Unfortunately, violence against homeless people is all too common. A recent study by the National Coalition for the Homeless found that hate crimes against homeless people jumped 24 percent in 2013. In fact, there were more hate crimes committed against homeless people than all other hate crimes in the United States — combined.

Homeless people are more likely to be attacked for a number of reasons. Living outside or in overcrowded emergency shelters can leave people highly vulnerable. But it’s not just that they make easy targets; many perpetrators commit violence because they hold animus towards the homeless. For instance, three Albuquerque teens beat to death two homeless men over the weekend. A third man who survived the attack recounted their motivation: “They were giggling and laughing at us, mocking us, calling us homeless.” According to an NBC News report, “The assault was so brutal, the victims could not be immediately identified.”

Indeed, the San Francisco study found that perpetrators were more likely to be strangers and acquaintances to the victim, rather than a close friend or domestic partner.

Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, pointed to another reason: there is more hatred directed towards the homeless in high-tourism states like California. Last year, California and Florida together accounted for nearly half of all hate crimes against homeless people.

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