Fear, Violence, and Sexual Assault: Women’s Experiences of Sleeping Rough
Updated: Mar 14
Women’s experiences of sleeping rough are particularly traumatising.
Homeless women are not only more frequently targeted than men, but more likely to experience sexual assault, harassment, and physical violence. And there’s evidence to support this.
Crisis revealed that an alarming 58% of women sleeping rough were threatened with violence or intimidated in 2016, in comparison with 42% of men.
And as well as this, a 2018 report commissioned by St Mungo's identifies women as subjected to being ‘spat, urinated and vomited on’, as well as vulnerable to threats, harassment, verbal abuse and discrimination.
But how frequently are homeless women faced with threats of physical and sexual violence?
Sexual exploitation is almost unavoidable
Sexual harassment and exploitation are devastatingly common experiences for homeless women, with recent studies suggesting one in four women sleeping rough were sexually assaulted in 2020.
It goes without saying that homeless women are not synonymous with sex workers. But evidence shows that these types of attitudes are near inescapable by these vulnerable women, as reported in Women and rough sleeping: a critical review.
A woman’s physical presence on the streets often means she’s assumed to be involved with sex work. But even in the absence of this particular assumption, the threat of rape and assault is always very real.
In a 2020 interview, 26-year-old Jessica tells the BBC that men of all ages attempt to exploit and take advantage of her daily. She goes on to say that “I don’t sleep because I’m scared that one day I might get seriously hurt, killed, or raped.”
This fear isn’t uncommon.
A 2018 report also finds women more likely to prioritise staying hidden as a defense against physical and sexual violence. Whether this is by avoiding populated areas or physically hiding their gender by dressing like men. These are often the only choice available to vulnerable and often terrified women.
One woman surveyed for this report told researchers:
“we have to hide because if we don’t we’re gonna get raped, kicked, beat.”
The need for change
This Women’s History Month, we desperately need to change the narrative for women and men sleeping rough across the globe.
We all deserve a safe space – to live without constant fear and threat of sexual assault and violence.
You can help by supporting the wonderful charities working tirelessly to support those sleeping rough.
Some of these include:
At Clothing Collective, we partner with local charities and charity shops to provide clothing vouchers for those most vulnerable living in the UK.
While spring is coming and weather is increasingly getting warmer, those sleeping rough are still feeling the cold. By donating today, you can help provide rough sleepers with the essential clothing they need to stay safe against the elements.