Exposed women are more exposed

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We need to give more attention to the minority of homeless women, who use the Danish institutions for the homeless. The women constantly have to deal with a risk of sexual assaults from male users.

There is a general understanding that the terms for women are different than they are for men. In a masters thesis entitled “more than exposed”, Karen Aunsø Nielsen, Louise Schack Hansen and Marie Skov Larsen investigate why homeless women often are the subject of sexual assaults from homeless men at the institutions for the homeless. All three of them visited projekt UDENFOR on 8 February, where they presented their thesis for a wide range of professionals.

The male dominance

According to the three authors, exposed women are often more exposed than men. When women use an option for the homeless, they enter a male dominated world. There is a vast majority of men, and so the minority of women who uses these options must abide by the men’s behavioral standards.

A homeless female user of an accommodation offer had this to say in connection with the preparation of the thesis.

“Well, it can be really hard. After all there are more of them, and they are sort of the people who run the place, right! And they are in charge…and then you just try to go with it, sometimes you do things that you would perhaps…not have agreed to under normal circumstances. So you go a bit further than usual! Just…to be left alone!”

We can do better

The three thesis students deliver different suggestions as to how the conditions can be changed for homeless women.

By articulating the problems and thereby creating an awareness and process of enlightenment among the personnel involved, the idea is to break from the general consensus that sexual assaults are regrettable terms for homeless women.

According to the authors it is also a problem that there is a lack of offers specifically for women. There are reasonably many accommodation offers for both women and men. All these offers are dominated by men and male behavioral standards, which can seem discouraging to women. Therefore the authors believe that it would be a good idea to rethink the physical environment with a focus on women. They suggest that night cafes have a separate room for women, where they can sleep in peace. In order for this suggestion to work, the institutions will probably need more personnel resources to secure a separation of the sexes, which will help to minimize the risk of sexual assault in the otherwise very unsafe sleeping situations.

 

Food for thought

After the presentation of the master thesis and the conclusions herein, the participants of the meeting were very aware of the recommendations from the writers to the authorities and professionals, who work with women in homeless shelters (institutions).

The presentation led to a debate and an exchange of views across the meeting room, where new issues were on the agenda. Many issues were brought up, e.g. a discussion on the different needs of homeless women, the special needs of female migrants, the gender issues in our professional approach towards vulnerable and much more.

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