Nearly two years ago when I came to work at Ampersand I left an agency very close to my heart, Habitat for Humanity of Madison & Clark Counties. I grew up in poverty housing and believe that having a safe, decent, affordable home is the foundation for upward mobility for individuals and families. Housing access, home ownership in particular, can encourage more vibrant and safer communities, but addressing housing will not eliminate violence. The intersections between housing and sexual violence are complicated and require our community to deeply collaborate.
52% of all sexual assaults happen where the victim lives (Colombino, Mercado 27).
This can turn the idea of home as a refuge, an important concept for many housing advocates, on its head. Having a home, even a nice sturdy home, does not ensure safety for families when half of all sexual assaults happen in our homes. Those who experience sexual violence in their homes face complex and nuanced housing challenges that don’t have easy answers.
For renters this can look like landlords being unresponsive to requests for new locks, repaired windows, and secure entrances. Sometimes renters who experience sexual violence in their homes are asked to move when the landlord feels the safety of the building is compromised. Even if a tenant decides for themselves that the property they are renting is no longer a safe place they will have to make decisions like whether or not they can afford to break their lease and afford a new deposit when they move. It has been reported that some landlords have even encouraged their tenants not to report sexual violence because it would impact their ability to qualify as subsidized housing. There are currently very few protections for renters in Kentucky. Less than 4% of Kentucky is currently covered by URLTA, the Universal Residential Landlord Tenant Act, which is essentially an anti-slum lord law. On top of all of this, a 2006 national survey of rape crisis center staff revealed that 58% of staff had at least one client who had reported sexual assault by their landlord. (nsvrc.org 2013) 71% of victims wanted to move after being sexually assaulted by their landlords but could not afford to break their lease (NSVRC 2014).
I will never forget when, at one of my first staff meetings at Ampersand in 2017, a therapist was seeking housing resources for a client. She was sharing her frustration that the client came to therapy every week and the therapist was able to help her process her trauma, but she couldn’t help her find a safe place to stay. It was a powerful moment for me as someone who had seen first hand the power of home in our community. We cannot end homelessness and housing insecurity without addressing sexual and domestic violence. Housing is reported as one of the biggest and most urgent concerns for victims and survivors (safehousingpartnerships.org).
Sexual violence and homelessness intersect in important ways. Sexual violence increases an individual’s probability of becoming homeless, and homelessness increases the risk of sexual victimization (NLCH 2007). These numbers only increase when we understand the ways these issues impact LGBTQ communities, people of color, and families.
This means that it is crucial for agencies like Ampersand Sexual Violence Resource Center to build collaborative survivor-centered relationships with housing agencies in our service area. This means that housing solutions must also be survivor-centered. This includes emergency housing, temporary housing, long term housing options, and affordable housing solutions in our communities. Nonprofit organizations must step outside of our boxes to provide individuals in our communities resources collaboratively.
Through an awareness of intersectionality, Ampersand must support housing advocates and agencies. Creative collaboration around housing for survivors has become an important goal in our three year strategic plan and we will be looking to experts in the housing sector for guidance. Access to housing cannot be addressed without considering survivors and there is no freedom from sexual violence until everyone has a decent place to live.
Assaults in the home
Colombino, N., Mercado, C. C., & Jeglic, E. L. (2009). Situational aspects of sexual offending: Implications for residence restriction laws. Justice Research and Policy, 11, 27-43. doi:10.3818/JRP.11.2009.27
71% of victims
We cannot end homelessness
Sexual violence and homelessness