Sexual harassment, assault and gender-based violence have dominated the headlines this year. And though most of the stories have been centered around the stories of actors, athletes, pundits, lawmakers and other people with faces and names you know, violence is not the sole purview of the wealthy. Far from it.
For women, trans folks and nonbinary individuals, it’s a fact of life and a part of a larger cycle of poverty, homelessness and trauma.
The cycle begins, often, with the link between shelter and physical safety. Women — especially women — often become homeless because of poverty, low wages and shortages of lower-income housing. A 2000 report entitled Intimate Partner Violence found that a woman with a household income below $7,500 is seven times more likely to experience domestic violence than one who earns $75,000. Abuse is also expensive, which creates a dependency; the CDC estimates that victims of intimate-partner violence collectively miss more than 8 million working days annually and accrue billions of dollars of medical debt.
This means that survivors of domestic violence are often hesitant or unable to flee. They may also simply be on the wrong side of the law; in Washington, victims of intimate-partner abuse have the right to terminate their lease — but that doesn’t help them find new housing in a market that’s often wildly out of reach.
If they do leave, they’ll be in familiar company; a full quarter of homeless women cite domestic abuse as the direct reason for their situation.
Women who live outside are both historically the survivors of some kind of trauma (as many as 92 percent of homeless mothers in one survey were found to have been victimized) and, once they become unsheltered, likely to suffer even more. Rape, abuse and ongoing assault are all common.
Getting into housing isn’t a guarantee of safety, either. Thanks to legally required data collection processes, access to services often requires survivors to give up their personal information, leaving them open to potential stalking or other breaches of privacy. Subsidized housing has been found to have a high prevalence of assault. And shelters, though well-meaning, can often be sources of re-traumatization.
Women who are survivors of assault or abuse may also suffer with the court systems as they attempt to keep or regain custody of children. They may face discrimination in the workplace. They may have complex PTSD or other trauma-related challenges that make a workplace difficult.
Gender-based violence impacts individuals at every income level, but for those who are already marginalized as a result of poverty, its continued impacts are more pernicious, more dangerous and, most often, more easily ignored.
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and policy consultant. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, Salon, Fast Company and Vice.
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