Rough sleepers are subjected to a “shocking and unacceptable” level of abuse by the public, including physical violence, sexual assault and theft, research has found.

The recent study found that street sleepers were almost 17 times more likely than the average person to have been a victim of violence, and 15 times more likely to have suffered verbal abuse.

Eight out of 10 rough sleepers reported being victims of a range of crimes and antisocial behaviours, from vandalism and intimidation to being hit, kicked, threatened or urinated on.

One in 20 rough sleepers reported having been the victim of a sexual assault while homeless.

The majority of the abuse was perpetrated by the public, and in more than half of instances the victims said they did not bother to report their experience to the police because they expected no action to be taken.

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Street sleepers told researchers the abuse tended to be random, mainly from strangers who were often in gangs or drunken groups. They reported being kicked in the head, having their sleeping bag burned, being urinated on, having stones thrown at them, and being called “dirty scumbag and scrounger”.

Some interviewees said they felt it was safer to bed down away from public areas, for example by sleeping on night buses, although one noted he had been assaulted in a quieter spot which did not have have CCTV cameras, and “this wouldn’t have happened” in town.