Peer victimization of lesbian, gay and bisexual adolescents in England was highest as students entered high school, but there was a significant reduction overall in victimization during subsequent years, according to recent findings published in Pediatrics.
“On average, bullying decreases with age, regardless of sexual orientation and gender,” study researcher Joseph P. Robinson, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Psychiatric Annals. “However, relative rates of bullying — that is, comparing rates of bullying for LGB youth with those for heterosexual youth — suggest that it gets relatively better for lesbian and bisexual females, compared to heterosexual females, while it gets relatively worse for gay and bisexual males, compared to heterosexual males. This suggests we need to better understand why relative rates of bullying increase for gay and bisexual males.”
Joseph P. Robinson
Robinson and colleagues examined rates of peer victimization among a nationally representative sample of 4,135 adolescents in England, 187 (4.5%) of whom self-identified as lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB). Data were collected in seven waves, beginning when students were aged 13 and 14 years (the equivalent of eighth grade in the United States). During interviews, students and their parents reported on specific forms of peer victimization, including name calling, threats of physical violence and acts of physical violence. The researchers also assessed students for emotional distress.
According to Robinson and colleagues, 57% of lesbian and bisexual female students reported being bullied at the age of 13 or 14 years, but only 6% of these students reported being bullied at the age of 20 or 21 years. For gay and bisexual male students, bullying declined from 52% to 9%.
Although LGB students experienced an overall reduction in bullying, gay and bisexual male students were still more likely to be bullied vs. heterosexual boys. For example, gay and bisexual male students aged 13 or 14 years were almost twice as likely (OR=1.78; P=.011), and gay and bisexual male students aged 20 and 21 years almost four times as likely (OR=3.95; P=.001), to be bullied compared with their heterosexual counterparts. Even when compared with heterosexual males who were bullied as often as gay and bisexual males during high school, gay and bisexual male students were even more likely than heterosexual males to be bullied when they left high school (OR=4.64; P<.001).
However, lesbian and bisexual female students were no more likely to be bullied than heterosexual female students.
Results also indicated that gay and bisexual male students (P=.002) and lesbian and bisexual female students (P=.001) demonstrated significantly higher levels of emotional distress after high school than their heterosexual peers. Peer victimization and emotional distress early on accounted for approximately 50% of LGB students’ emotional distress in later years (P<.015).
“This suggests that reducing bullying during high school and recognizing and reducing early signs of emotional distress may help to reduce the LGB-heterosexual disparity in emotional distress in early adulthood,” Robinson said. “However, addressing bullying and early emotional distress are unlikely to fully eliminate the disparity because, combined, they explain only half of the disparity; thus, additional programs and policies may be necessary.”
Disclosure: Robinson reports no relevant financial disclosures.