Last weekend, my teenage son lost track of time while at a neighborhood friend's house and missed his curfew. Intent on teaching him a lesson, I locked all the doors and went to bed. A few minutes later I was receiving a steady stream of text messages and phone calls interspersed between the ringing doorbell. I wanted to leave him out on our front step. Yet faced with a cold night and the knowledge that leaving a teenager to roam free at night is a bad idea, I finally let him in.
The idea of leaving a teenager out in the night made think of a study that I had read and was planning to cover this week. The study, Surviving Crime and Violence: Street Youth and Victimization in Toronto, includes interviews with 244 homeless youth in Toronto about life on the streets and their experiences with victimization. It underscores the vulnerabilities that young people face when they are homeless.
Here are a few of the studies findings:
- Homeless youth are much more likely than housed youth to become victims of crime and violence. 76% of the youth in the study reported at least one instance of criminal victimization in the previous 12 months.
- Homeless youth are unable to take appropriate measures to protect themselves. Street youth use a number of strategies to keep themselves safer. These strategies, which include moving regularly and altering their appearance to look tougher, do little to reduce risk.
- Young homeless women in particular are much more likely to be victimized, and report high levels of sexual assault. 89.6% of the female street youth in the study reported being victims of crime, compared to 71.8% of young males. Over one-third of the young women reported being victims of sexual assault. Lesbian and bisexual females were the most victimized population among the street youth in the study.
- The younger youth are when they leave home, the more vulnerable they are to criminal victimization. Those who left home at age 16 or younger experienced victimization at levels which exceeded those for youth who left home after 16.
The authors of the study point out that when young people are homeless they lack basic protective factors available to most young people - access to a home, supportive adults and friends, and places to seek refuge. They state:
Being homeless means constant exposure to dangerous people and places, a lack of safe housing and privacy and the need to engage in income generating activities associated with poverty. Homelessness, then, clearly compounds the social exclusion of otherwise marginalized young people, and this has much to do with their experience of criminal victimization.
The study is published by the Street Youth Legal Services Justice for Children and Youth. The authors of the study are Stephen Gaetz, Ph.D., York University, Bill O'Grady, Ph.D., University of Guelph, and Kristy Buccieri, York University.
I found this study at The Homeless Hub, a Canadian initiative to address the need for a single place to find homelessness information from across Canada. Launched in 2007, the Homeless Hub is a web-based research library and information center representing an innovative step forward in the use of technology to enhance knowledge mobilization and networking. It is a great resource, even if you aren't Canadian:)