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Confronting cruelty

March 01 2021
© Rosie Roksoph © Rosie Roksoph

What links vulnerable children, missing people and adult homelessness? Report by Rosie Roksoph

My first exposure to extreme human cruelty was aged six.

Kay was my first school friend. By the time anyone realised how vulnerable Kay was it was too late.

The man Kay called 'dad' before her mum threw him out, left Kay in intensive care after a hit-and-run. I forget if this was ever proven, but everyone knew he was capable.

Kay wasn't in school again for a long time and when she returned, she was different. She was still my friend, but she could no longer talk or walk and was partially blind.

This is just one example of many more I could give which highlight the fact that many shared issues surrounding vulnerable adults and homelessness start in childhood.

The Preventing Exploitation Toolkit ( uk) states: “Trauma and adversity experienced during childhood and later life can have huge impacts on people’s lives and can greatly increase their vulnerability to exploitation.”

Added to which, a 2019 study Homelessness and Childhood Adversity ( found that 87% of those reporting lived experience of homelessness had experienced at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), and half reported four or more ACEs.

This backs up what I see: that many people who are already at greatest risk of being exploited are more so when homeless, with women being most vulnerable.

The statistics for homeless women are at best incomplete. Of the 4,266 people estimated to be sleeping rough in autumn 2019, 614 were women (Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government, 2020). Of these unaccounted for women, many are among the hidden-homeless community. Out of sight but not out of danger?

According to the community link manager at WISH (a charity for women in prison with mental health issues): "Because of the danger of actually being on the streets most homeless women either sofa surf or stay with abusive men in exchange for a space to live. We have worked with women who rode the buses at night, went to Heathrow at night or spent the night in A&E. Others stay in crack houses in exchange for cleaning up or sex." 

If this is true for most hidden homeless women, it's unclear how many more never come out of hiding. A missing person with no support network is surely that much more likely to remain missing.

Josie Allen at missingpeople. says: “There are many links between missing and rough sleeping but also between missing and hidden homelessness. We also know there is likely to be a hidden missing population – people who are absent from their lives and from support services but may not have had anyone to report them missing.”

In the Evening Standard on 11 January 2021, the Chief Executive of NSPCC said: “Invisibility” that could result from children’s absence from class risked “cultivating” the “conditions for abuse and neglect” and would lead to lasting harm unless action is taken.

Based on numbers of people I HAVE MET who carry scars of violence from childhood (deafness, blindness, epilepsy and brain damage being COMMON examples), isn't it obvious (as the NSPCC points out) that unless intervention is made to protect vulnerable children the consequence will be a continuing cycle of abuse in silence? 

Many living with the lasting harm caused during childhood can be found sleeping on the streets… Meanwhile the saying, 'Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence' is especially true of the unknown numbers of vulnerable hidden homeless people. 

What do you get when cruelty is combined with opportunity and greed? The human exploitation business which is, as ever, A BIG BUSINESS.

In a nutshell

  • This feature looks at how many people who have had a tricky childhood may as adults be missing, hidden homeless, vulnerable or rough sleeping.
  • GET HELP: If you are a woman at risk from domestic abuse, call National Domestic Abuse 0808 2000 247 open 24/7 or dial 999 for an emergency. Or in London call at 0808 802 5565. Scotland’s 24/7 Domestic Abuse & Forced Marriage Helpline 0800 027 1234