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A stress process model of arrest among homeless women: Exploring risk and protective factors

Kari C Gentzler, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Objective: Women constitute one of the fastest-growing segments of both the homeless and incarcerated populations. In addition, homeless women tend to have higher rates of victimization, mental illness, substance use, and criminal justice system involvement compared to non-homeless women, although this body of research is becoming dated. The current study situates homeless women’s involvement in the criminal justice system within the stress process model and proposes that these factors—childhood abuse, psychiatric disorders, and homelessness—act as stressors that increase their risk of arrest. In addition, social support and self-efficacy are examined as potential protective factors that may act as buffers against arrest. Method: This study utilizes data from 159 homeless women from three U.S. cities: Omaha, Nebraska, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Portland, Oregon. Results: First, rates of childhood abuse and recent arrest were examined: 75% of the women had experienced some physical, verbal, or sexual abuse during childhood and 20% of the women had been arrested in the year prior to the study. Bivariate logistic regression results indicated that childhood sexual abuse was a significant correlate of recent arrests. Next, stressors related to mental illness, substance use, and women’s experiences while homeless were tested as mediators of the focal relationship. Drug dependence disorder and victimization experienced while homeless emerged as significant mediators in the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and arrest. Finally, social support and self-efficacy were explored as moderating resources. These protective factors, however, were unrelated to recent arrest and did not modify the relationship between psychiatric disorders or homelessness stressors and arrest. Conclusions: The current study supports the stress process model as a valid framework for studying risk and protective factors for arrest among homeless women. Stressors experienced early in life, such as childhood sexual abuse, give rise to stressors in other life domains and lead to maladaptive outcomes. Results of the current study provide evidence for the ongoing criminalization of mental illness and homelessness in contemporary society.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|Criminology

Recommended Citation

Gentzler, Kari C, "A stress process model of arrest among homeless women: Exploring risk and protective factors" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3630001.