The #MeToo movement has put the spotlight on the sexual assault and harassment towards women, and it has made all of us want to fight harder against it and hear the stories of everyone, but especially of those whose voices still aren’t heard – the homeless women.
I regularly meet homeless women and the conversation easily turns from talking about food to talking about how unsafe they feel in this world. They have been harassed by many food providers, so they are afraid to go there again.
When we talk about food insecurity, we never mention abuse and harassment. We know how hard is homelessness, but these topics are hardly mentioned anywhere, and these women aren’t safe anywhere they go.
Once, I was in the situation watching a man who worked in the food providers, and he yelled to a homeless woman about how she is already fat and she doesn’t need the food. The woman later told us that she hadn’t been eating at that food provider since then.
Another young woman tells us that she won’t go to one soup kitchen because anytime she does, men hit on her all the time. She says that she would rather eat a bag of chips for dinner than go to a place where people harras her.
Yet another young woman who lives in a shelter says that she is afraid to go anywhere by herself because men presume that because she is homeless, she is willing to treat intimate intercourse for money.
A homeless woman told me just recently that her friend has been raped at the train station at 8 pm on a weeknight, by a man who is constantly looking to find such women. The man punched her friend in the face first, then grabbed her hands and dragged her to an empty parking lot, where he raped the woman. She later went to the police, but the police officer told her that she should have called 911. The woman telling the story is afraid for her own safety because she believes she knows who the man is.
She thinks that the police officer wiped off her friend because he knows that she’s homeless. These people are maybe the most stigmatized people in our society, and they see the police more as a threat than a source of help.
In an attempt to confirm the rape report, I contacted the local police department, but they said that there’s no such thing without the official report by the victim herself. No matter how hard I tried to explain that these women are scared of the police, they only replied that they would keep an eye out, but there is nothing they could do without the name of the victim.
These stories are not one-of-a-kind though. They happen regularly to almost all of the homeless women.
In a survey made in 2005, 78 percent of these women have reported that they have been a subject of rape and a physical assault. These rates are higher than much much higher than the national average.
Nevertheless, the most common reply of practically everyone around me when I bring up these issues is that they have never thought about it before.
The media isn’t covering it, there are not many academic pieces of research on the topic, so not many people turn their eyes on these matters.
The difference between the women that participate in the #MeToo movement and the women that are homeless is that when they speak, no one listens.
These women have nowhere to go, and the institution that is supposed to help them is being feared of.
We all live in a patriarchal society here in the U.S. but the difference between the women who are now coming forward and the homeless women speak is that there is no place for their stories to be heard.
These women are already in the margins of the society, and in the margins of our minds. So the very least we can do is see and try to acknowledge their reality!