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Hate Crimes: the Disturbing Trend of Violence towards People who are Homeless

May 3, 2011

The other week, we brought you this disturbing story as part of our Friday news Round-Up. A website based out of Florida paid several homeless men to get beaten up on videotape. Footage of these “beatdowns” was then sold on their website.

While this story is extremely shocking, it’s perhaps even more disturbing that this is not the first time something like this has happened. Stories like this, this, and this brutal attack right here in D.C., are troubling reminders that people are often at the highest risk of being victimized when they are at their most vulnerable. And women experiencing homelessness are particularly susceptible. Without shelter or a support system, sleeping on the street offers no protection against sexual assault.

The National Coalition for the Homeless reported that in one year alone, 117 homeless individuals became victims of a violent attack – 43 of which turned out to be fatal assaults. Among the survivors of attacks, 67% were beaten, 13% were raped or sexually assaulted, and a horrifying 8% were set on fire.

Here in D.C., there were five attacks against people who were homeless in 2008-2009, one of which was fatal. Keep in mind, however, that these numbers may in fact be much higher. Many attacks targeting homeless individuals – and particularly sexual assaults – often go unreported.

Thankfully, many states have taken steps to recognize and prosecute these attacks as hate crimes. Florida, which has one of the highest rates of homelessness among its population, was the most recent state to take action. This past October, Florida passed a bill adding “homeless status” to the state’s hate crime laws. Both Maryland and D.C. began protecting homeless individuals under their hate crime legislation in 2009.

While this legislation is a meaningful first step, it’s clear that laws alone can’t prevent these brutal attacks from happening. The recent strings of beatings in Florida demonstrate there is a much deeper problem with the perception of people who are homeless. Men and women experiencing homelessness deserve to be treated with the same dignity that every human being – regardless of age, race, sex, or housing status – has a right to.

  • For more information, take a look at this report released by the National Coalition for the Homeless.
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