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Who Speaks for Homeless Women? Study Finds 85% Fear Sexual Abuse

Women reported being harassed even as they went about daily activities – such as when they tried to use the toilets.

Published
Gender
3 min read
“Homeless women are one of the most vulnerable sections in the society,” notes the study.
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“Homeless women are one of the most vulnerable sections in the society, and face numerous cases of harassment – from the police, society and even homeless men” – finds a detailed study in the homeless in Delhi. Released on Saturday, 9 February, the report – titled Understanding Homelessness in Delhi – and undertaken by Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) highlights several alarming aspects of the harassment faced by the homeless.

For one, three-fourths of the respondents admitted to not helping homeless people who were being harassed, even when they witnessed such acts.

For another, women reported being harassed even as they went about their daily activities – such as when they tried to use the toilets. They even reported being followed by groups of men when they walked in the dark.

However, the report also found that fewer cases of sexual harassment were actually reported to the police by the women, which “points to the fact that they are afraid to speak up about such incidents – even though they know that the fear is genuine”.

Who Harassed Them?

Homeless women reported these people as the biggest harassers:

1. The general public

2. The police and traffic police

3. Relatives, friends and peer groups

Surprisingly, a whopping 74% of the people surveyed said they extended no help to the victim (male or female) when they witnessed harassment. What were their reasons for not helping? The survey lists them in order:

70% didn’t want to “get involved”, 10% considered it “daily activity”, another 10% claimed they “couldn’t fight against the harasser”, 2% claimed that the harasser “was too powerful” – and another 8% gave other reasons.
The survey observes that “most of these problems would be addressed if proper homeless shelters were provided to these people with adequate facilities.”
The survey observes that “most of these problems would be addressed if proper homeless shelters were provided to these people with adequate facilities.”
(Photo Courtesy: IGSSS)
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What Kind of Harassment Do Women Face?

An overwhelming majority of the women surveyed – 85% – reported fearing physical/sexual harassment when living out in the open. So did 66% of all men surveyed. The IGSSS study refers to Chaudhury, Joseph and Singh’s 2010 report Homeless Women and Violence, stating that homeless women face the following kinds of violence:

1. Verbal and physical abuse

2. Sexual violence and exploitation

3. Lack of basic services and risks to safety and personal security

4. Inadequate living conditions and risks to health

5. Lack of access to government schemes and livelihood opportunities

6. Difficulties in accessing healthcare

7. Destruction of possessions and livelihood means

8. Arbitrary arrests and detention

Three-fourths of the respondents admitted to not helping homeless people who were being harassed.
Three-fourths of the respondents admitted to not helping homeless people who were being harassed.
(Photo Courtesy: IGSSS)
The survey observes that “most of these problems would be addressed if proper homeless shelters were provided to these people with adequate facilities. It also notes that while “shelters are not the complete solution”, they can help “address a lot of these concerns”.

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