Wednesday 17 January 2018

Cycle of pain: Most homeless women beaten as kids and almost half sexually abused

Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

SEVEN out of 10 women living on the street suffered violence or abuse as children, a new study has revealed.

Some 46pc of homeless women also experienced sexual abuse during childhood, with half growing up with domestic violence in their family home.

Researcher Paula Mayock found that early school-leavers and young girls brought up in poverty were also more likely to become homeless.

"The findings of this research highlight social exclusion as a defining feature of the women's life experiences," said Dr Mayock, of Trinity College Dublin.

"The vast majority suffered poverty from childhood, a large number left school early and without educational qualifications, and a majority reported low levels of labour market participation."

Dr Mayock said a large number reported a host of other adversities in addition to housing instability from a young age.

"Neglect and abuse during childhood, intimate partner violence, and problems related to drug or alcohol consumption seriously impacted their ability to access and sustain housing," she said.

"Over half had experienced repeat episodes of homelessness, suggesting that the homelessness of a large number remained unresolved, sometimes over many years."

Sixty homeless women were interviewed for the study, carried out with Sarah Sheridan of TCD's Children's Research Centre.

The average age of the women - which ranged from 18 to 62 - was 34.8 years. Some 17 were migrant women.

While 27 had been married, all were either separated or living apart from their husbands, and two-thirds had suffered domestic violence.

Researchers found 45pc had slept rough at some point, with almost a third experiencing homelessness under the age of 18 and 23pc at between 18 and 25 years.

Figures also showed that more than two-thirds of women were either mothers or expecting, with 21 reporting that one or more of their children were in the care of the HSE, living with a relative, or living with their fathers.

Of the 105 children of the women, 77 children were under 18 and 49 under 12.

Dr Mayock said homelessness in Ireland had generally been viewed as a phenomenon that primarily affects men.

"The findings of this research highlight several dimensions of gendered experience and indicate that the reasons for women's homelessness differ to those of men," she said.

"Gender perspectives on housing and homelessness are critical if services are to work appropriately and effectively to meet the needs of homeless women."

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