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Preventing homeless starts with preventing sexual abuse, says charity chief

Safeline CEO Neil Henderson tells The Big Issue that “nobody has drawn a link” between the two when it comes to forming strategies to reduce the number of people living on the streets

Preventing homelessness must go beyond building social homes, says the head of a charity tackling sexual abuse as he warns the link between the issue and how it drives homelessness is “being missed”.

Neil Henderson, the CEO of Safeline – the charity behind the National Male Survivor Helpline, has warned that failing to prevent sexual abuse is undermining attempts to reduce homelessness as well as leading to a waste of resources in picking up the pieces afterwards.

Prevention is the backbone of The Big Issue’s own mission to reduce homelessness. And that’s why Big Issue founder Lord John Bird has lent his support to Safeline.

The danger is that we can flood all the money into housing but not targeting the root cause which is sexual abuse

“There is an inextricable link between sexual abuse and homelessness and none of this ever features in any work to do with homelessness,” Henderson told The Big Issue.

“I’ve read the government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy and our view is that a lot of the symptoms are being treated but there is this massive root cause of homelessness that has never been tackled.

“It just makes sense that if you can stop kids being abused then you can prevent homelessness and no amount of social housing or anything else will ever address that. The danger is that we can flood all the money into housing but not targeting the root cause which is sexual abuse. “We’re really missing a big trick here, it’s a massive gap.”

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Safeline’s work in preventing sexual abuse in England and Wales is extensive – as well as the male helpline they are also the only charity in the field offering a national online counselling service which allows survivors to discuss their experiences anonymously.

This, insists Henderson, can have a big impact when it comes to encouraging people to come forward with women typically taking between 20 to 30 years to have the confidence to speak up while for men it can take a further decade.

The scale of the issue is extensive – the Office for National Statistics’ Crime Survey estimates that 648,000 adult men and women were sexually assaulted last year with five out of six victims not reporting their experiences to police.

The repercussions on mental health can be severe, with the issue cited as a main driver of suicide as well as drug and alcohol abuse.

But the impact on homelessness is not as widely acknowledged, according to Henderson, who cites a US study that said 40 per cent of youth homelessness can be traced back to abuse at home.

Henderson is now urging the government, regardless of whoever comes out on top in the December general election, to include sexual abuse in their Rough Sleeping Strategy to form a greater link between the two issues.

“We know sexual abuse and I know that homelessness is very high on the agenda of the current government and if Labour get in it would equally be as high,” said the Safeline CEO.

“It’s not something that leaders and businesses feel comfortable backing, it’s not because they don’t think it’s important, it’s because they simply feel it’s beyond their scope of knowledge.

“Not only is there a moral need to do something but there is an economic need because it sexual assault is one of the biggest drivers of mental illness, suicides, homelessness and drug and alcohol abuse. If you can actually source it and prevent it then there is a lot of money to be saved as well.”

If you have been affected by sexual abuse or know someone who has been affected, you can contact Safeline online here, call 0808 800 5005 for the National Male Survivor Helpline or text 07860027573 for the charity’s online advisors

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