The National Alliance to End Sexual Violence urges Congress to protect victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse who reside in Public and Section 8 housing in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Specifically, provisions should be included to:
– Protect sexual assault victims from discriminatory denials, terminations, and evictions due to their status as victims; – Allow sexual assault victims to transfer quickly to a safer location following a sexual assault; and – Establish mechanisms to examine and address sexual violence committed by housing personnel.
Victims need safe housing in order to heal and stay safe from sexual assault. Too many victims become homeless as a result of sexual assault. Once homeless, they are further vulnerable to sexual victimization and exploitation. Victims often find themselves trapped in homes where they are further victimized by caregivers, parents, siblings, landlords, intimate partners, neighbors, or others in or near their home. Economic insecurity often goes hand-in-hand with sexual violence.
Poverty is a risk factor for sexual victimization, increasing an individual’s vulnerability to sexual exploitation in the workplace, schools, and in prostitution, sex trafficking, and the drug trade.i People with the lowest socioeconomic status are at greater risk for violence.ii Persons with a household income under $7,500 are twice as likely as the general population to be sexually assaulted.iii Some perpetrators sexually exploit individuals who lack sufficient economic resources, forcing them to exchange sex for survival needs such as housing.iv Sexual violence during adolescence results in diminished investments in education, which can lead to lower occupational status and personal income in adulthood. The estimated lifetime income loss due to sexual assault is $241,600.v
Economic insecurity and the trauma that often follows sexual assault make it difficult, if not impossible, for many victims to access safe, affordable housing options for themselves and their families. Public and Section 8 housing programs are vital resources for many victims of sexual assault, yet these vulnerable victims are not currently protected from housing and discrimination under federal law.
Selected Research on Sexual Assault, Housing, and Homelessness: – According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 40% of all sexual assaults occur in a victim’s home; an additional 20% of assaults occur at the home of a victim’s friend, relative, or neighbor.vi – Ninety-two percent of homeless mothers have experienced severe physical and/or sexual assault at some point in their lives; 43% reported sexual abuse in childhood.vii – Sixty-one percent of homeless girls and 19% of homeless boys report sexual abuse as the reason for leaving home.viii – A study of African American survivors of sexual assault found that 76% attributed their rape to the “riskiness of their living situations.“ix – Fifty-eight percent of respondents to a national survey reported instances of landlord-against-tenant sexual assault; in 79% of those cases, victims reported that their landlords refused to repair locks, supply heat and hot water, or make the living space safe; made sexual propositions to tenants; stalked tenants; and engaged in unwanted sexual contact with tenants.x
Advocates overwhelmingly agree that Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) housing protections for domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking victims in Public and Section 8 housing environments must be extended to sexual assault victims and survivors. In a national survey of 250 advocates, 88% reported that sexual assault victims often need to relocate quickly after an assault, the majority indicating that relocation was necessary due to the perpetrator living in close proximity and fear of further victimization. In the words of advocates throughout the country, here are just some of the reasons why protections are so critical for sexual assault victims and survivors:
– “On June 18, 2007, up to ten armed youths between the ages of 14 and 18 forced themselves into a Florida woman’s apartment in Dunbar Village, where they repeatedly raped her and poured household chemicals into her son’s eyes and over her body. This victim was not protected by VAWA.” – “One client’s landlord was friends with the rapist. When she reported, the landlord made a dummy eviction notice, taped it to her door, and then changed the locks. The sheriff’s office had to come out and force the landlord to open the door.” – “My client was a woman raped by the landlord and was evicted when she filed charges.” – “The Housing Authority became aware of various minor violations that were part of the police report and the victim was evicted.” – “Client had trouble relocating because the landlord made the housing department aware of the extensive damage done to her residence. The damage was done during the commission of a sexual assault against the client, but housing was slow to move her and said it was because of the condition of her previous residence.” – “The client experienced harassment from other tenants, and the landlord told her if there were any more problems she would be evicted.” – “I worked with a client who had to give up on a Section 8 unit she had almost acquired because her previous landlord disclosed the sexual assault incident to the potential landlord when he was doing a search on previous housing history.” – One transitional housing provider estimated that 100% of the homeless women they serve are survivors of rape or sexual assault.
Without safe, affordable housing alternatives, many sexual assault victims and their children find themselves physically and emotionally trapped in traumatic environments, unable to move forward in a healthy and positive way.
VAWA housing protections will ensure that victims of sexual assault experience less economic insecurity, more opportunity to heal from the trauma of their attacks and a strengthened ability to move forward to contribute in positive ways to their families, communities, and larger society.
i Jewkes, R., Sen, P., & Garcia-Moreno, C. (2002). Sexual violence. In: Krug, E., Dahlberg, L., Mercy, J.A., Zwi, A.B., Lozano, R. (Ed.). World report on violence and health (pp. 147-181). Geneva, Switzerland: The World Health Organization.
iii Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1996). National Crime Victimization Survey. Retrieved from http://www.ojp.udsdoj.gov/bjs/cvict.html
iv Jewkes et al., 2002
v MacMillan, R. (2000). Adolescent victimization and income deficits in adulthood: Rethinking the costs of criminal violence from a life-course perspective, Criminology, 38, 553-576.
vi U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1997). 1997 Sex Offenses and Offenders Study.
vii Goodman, L., Fels, K., & Glenn, C. (2006). No safe place: Sexual assault in the lives of homeless women. Retrieved from http://www.vawnet.org/applied-research-papers/print-document.php?doc_id=558
viii Estes, R. & Weiner, N. (2001). Commercial sexual exploitation of children in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania.
ix West, C.M. (2006). Sexual violence in the lives of African American women: Risk, response, and resilience. Retrieved from http://www.vawnet.org/research/summary.php?doc_id=578&find_type=web_desc_AR
x Keeley, T. (2006). Landlord sexual assault and rape of tenants: Survey findings and advocacy approaches. Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy, 40(7-8), 441-450.
NAESV thanks the National Sexual Violence Resource Center for their significant research contributions to this document.