Study Finds Homeless and Unstably Housed Women Face High Rates of Violence in SF

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By Sarah Thomas | July 23, 2014 1:40 PM EST

A study from UC San Francisco revealed that nearly 60 percent of the women in the city who are homeless or don't have stable homes have experienced some form of violence.

REUTERS/Kyodo
Women walk in strong winds caused by typhoon Neoguri at Kokusai street, a shopping and amusement district in Naha, on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 8, 2014. REUTERS/Kyodo

According to Elise Riley, the chief investigator and an associate professor of medicine at the UCSF HIV/AIDS division at San Francisco General Hospital, the study is the first to provide a glimpse into the lives of these homeless women, bringing to light the violence they face in their everyday life.

The study, "Recent Violence in a Community-Based Sample of Homeless and Unstably Housed Women With High Levels of Psychiatric Comorbidity," appears online in the American Journal of Public Health. The study was conducted to create awareness about the issue and to reach a solution.

"We looked at all types of violence - physical, sexual and emotional. We expected to find higher rates than those reported in the general population, but we were surprised at the amount of harm inflicted upon this incredibly vulnerable population of women and the multitude of perpetrators," said Riley.

For the research 291 women aged 20 to 69 were studied for a period of six months, 60 percent had claimed to have experienced some form of abuse - physical, sexual or emotional, this was more than what the researchers had expected. The most recent homeless count in San Francisco revealed that 27 percent of the 7,350 individuals surveyed were women.

The study stated that two third, a third and another third of the women suffered from emotional, physical and sexual violence respectively. Some even succumbed to multiple types of exploitation.

Riley explained that this study was different from the rest as it took into account the psychological aspect as well because "psychological violence has huge impacts on many aspects of women's health." The researchers found that many impoverished women take to social isolation as a means to get out of violent situations, when other alternatives were unavailable. They said, "Social isolation decreased the odds of the women in the study experiencing violence."

Martha Shumway, the study's senior author and a UCSF associate professor of psychiatry at San Francisco General, said that it was surprising to note, the more the mental illness the women were going through, the greater was the chance of them being treated violently. They also found it shocking that the violence in most cases were committed by strangers and acquaintances and not by a domestic partner.

 "It's not just domestic or primary patterns, violence is being perpetrated from neighbors, strangers, family members - so many different sources. That, to us, was really important. Women can be victimized by many sources," said Riley

Bevan Dufty, director of Housing Opportunity, Partnerships & Engagement in The City, said that the number of cases were "disturbing."

In February, The City made it easier to reserve 90 day shelter beds by calling 311. They realized that the initial system of standing in line at San Francisco's sites had many women choosing to not opt for it as it would lead to a long wait, till as early as 3 am. But now Dufty, "The City has seen an increased number of women seeking shelter." He also stated that the Mayor Edward Lee has secured funding in this fiscal year's budget for 30 women to stay at an emergency shelter in the winter.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Kyodo / )
Women walk in strong winds caused by typhoon Neoguri at Kokusai street, a shopping and amusement district in Naha, on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 8, 2014. REUTERS/Kyodo
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